Prev Next
Talking to Young Kids About the Current Events

Talking to Young Kids About the Current Events

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

Thanks for all the great advice you dole out and the hilarity on your blog. I too am incapable of having the appropriate fitting pants in the fall and run around trying to find something in a panic.

I have a five year old son who started kindergarten this year. He’s doing great with the transition and is really enjoying school. He’s obviously being exposed to a lot of new people and ideas and it’s fun watching him absorb it all.

He’s just beginning to understand that there’s a larger world out there but still completely oblivious to current events. And part of that is our fault because we expose him to no news sources. We don’t have cable TV so 99 percent of his screen time comes from Netflix or Amazon Prime. We don’t get any newspaper or magazine subscriptions. All of our news is consumed on our phone or through late night TV (ahem, John Oliver) after the kids are in bed.

Honestly, I don’t even know how to start. Ideas? How do you expose your boys to current events? Am I going to have to turn on cable/network news?

Thanks!
K

No! Don’t do that! Too soon, man. Too soon.

Like you said, a five year old is just beginning to understand there’s a larger world out there. That’s more than enough for now. Teaching him about other children living on the other side of the world, who wear different clothing and play with different toys is one thing — exposing him to the fact that those children are washing up dead on beaches or starving to death on a daily basis is another. And that, unfortunately, is the grim reality of most mainstream news coverage these days. Scary images and sad stories that your little guy is not ready to process, nor should he have to, at this age. It’s literal nightmare fuel.

Here’s a very good primer/overview from CommonSense Media about explaining news and current events to kids and teens. Notice their number one recommendation for kids under seven: KEEP THE NEWS AWAY. No news shows, no newspapers or magazine lying around. So congrats! You’re already doing that, and it’s exactly the right thing to do, for now.

Instead, read him books about other kids in other cultures. Let him look at maps and read about parts of the world. Talk about the people in his own neighborhood who work to keep people safe (firemen, police officers, doctors and nurses, etc.) so he as he gains an understanding that “bad things” can happen (fires, robberies, car crashes, etc.) it will be built on a foundation of “yes, but I am safe, and have people to protect me.”

(Honestly, I was just trying to think of a modern kids TV show that offers kids a look outside their world and culture in a really positive way, and really can’t think of a better example than good ol’ Reading Rainbow, which thankfully is still readily available. Lots of diverse books and authors, good segments about different parts of the world and the people who live and work there, etc. And Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood will always be the best, gentle go-to for when a child DOES absorb some bad/scary news and needs to work through it: Look for the helpers.)

He’ll learn a lot of this stuff in school, obviously, during social studies and such, and he probably will start to glean bits and pieces of “news” from teachers and classmates. They’ll probably talk about the presidential election, for example, but frame it in mostly historical, positive “this is how America works and it’s great!” ways. (Meanwhile even his teacher is probably thinking “ugh just let it be over already.”)

A lot of elementary schools will use stuff from Scholastic News or Time For Kids to present current news in an age appropriate manner — just a quick look will show you how DRASTICALLY different those sources are to your average local newspaper or network/cable news. And that’s a good thing. You can consider a subscription to one of them yourself if you’d like to make it part of his screen time at some point (versus him wandering off to less friendly news sources), but I think he’s still really too young. Second or third grade, maybe.

And above all, listen to him. Be available to talk and answer questions. He might want to know who you’re voting for and why, and might already have absorbed how particularly charged and divided this election has left people. Sometimes schools will address specific “major” news stories, like floods and earthquakes, and will encourage the kids to send in donations or fund raise for the victims. I think this is a great way to react to “bad” current events that can scare young children: Give them a chance to counter the bad with some small good.

You can get him involved in a holiday food, clothing or toy drive, have him chose what to donate, and talk gently through “why” it’s a good thing to do.  At some point last year, my middle son (he was seven years old at the time) suddenly came home from school asking about Syria and the refugee crisis, and spent an evening packing up old toys to send to the children who had to leave theirs behind. This alone seemed to really help him, and I refrained from going into many more details than he’d already picked up. There’s a war, people had to escape the war, now they need help. I offered to send some money along with the toys, and that cheered him up even more. Positive actions to cancel out the negative news. Look for the helpers. BE the helpers.

Photo source: Depositphotos/creatista

************

Dear readers, you can leave a comment without having to register. Just sign in as a “guest.”  We love and appreciate your insights!

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

  • Vickie

    Our local news station and national news stations have video stories on line. So not the whole news broadcast, but just one story. Cherry picking from those stories (pre screening them) can work great. Animal stories, family stories, local festivals, something new being built, sports events, awards, human interest, etc. There ARE positive stories out there.

    So when you see a good topic, you can look for a video on that topic/event and then prescreen it.

    (I send links to those stories to my out of state (grown) kids. Something going on in the area, topic of interest to them, people they know, etc.)

  • Melissa Murphy

    I tend to listen to NPR while in the car. I’ve found that this has exposed my son to a lot of concepts, issues and words without the scary images. Additionally, I have control over the station – if the story is not appropriate I can change it immediately. I’ve also found that my son will immediately ask if he wants to know more. We live in the North East, so I’ve been asked to explain deflate-gate a few times, the zika virus and presidential elections.

  • bookworm81

    I absolutely agree than Kindergarten is still way too young to process most news these days. I have a 5 year old and a 7 year old and similar media consumption habits so they haven’t gotten much exposure either. We’ve talked about the election a bit mostly because my was away for a while during the primaries canvassing for Clinton and they’ve seen just enough of Trump while out in the world (since CNN is considered “safe” for waiting rooms :/) to refer to him as “the angry orange man”. My son came home from school last week panicking about Trump winning thanks to something an equally freaked out classmate had said so I had to spend the better part of an hour explaining polling numbers and the electoral college to him. Trust me, you don’t want to try to explain the electoral college to a 7 year old (but if you do the graphics on 538 are extremely helpful). So yeah, shelter him while you can.

  • MR

    We don’t have cable either. And I don’t even let my 8 year old watch the news, because *I* don’t watch the news. The news is just designed to scare people. I read the news online, browsing all the headlines, and only clicking on some. I also go to many different sources, because I find that each source gives a very biased look at things these days, and looking at a bunch gives me an idea of what is actually common from all of them. I let my kids see some of the stories, but mostly, I let them see the stuff about the things that kids are doing. Like today, there was one about a kid who makes teddy bears for kids in the hospital. I’ll show that to her tonight. I like showing her examples of how kids can make a difference in the world. Short little videos that we can talk about after are good too. But we do canned food drives and coats for kids in the winter. We do giving trees for Christmas and they pick out toys for other kids. We discuss why this is necessary, and why not all kids have things. It gets pretty cold here in the winter, and so on those days that are really cold, if I see someone homeless on the street or begging, I stop and buy hot coffee and a warm meal for them, and I try to buy water for people on those really hot days of summer. I explain to the kids that on days like that, nobody would decide to stand outside if they had another choice. For littler kids or kids who might be more sensitive, I highly recommend starting with animals rather than people, because it helps the child understand the concept while not quite making the leap to other kids not having homes and thus scaring them. You can talk about animals who don’t have homes and help collect money for a charity that helps one of the humane societies. As they get a little older, then you can naturally widen that to talking about children in the same way. You just slowly add in a little more.

  • IrishCream

    I definitely agree with minimizing young children’s exposure to the news, but it’s amazing how things filter through into Kid World. My kids are in first grade and preschool, and while fortunately they haven’t heard about some of our scarier current events–mass shootings, natural disasters–they’ve definitely heard about the election. Some of that awareness has come from seeing yard signs or demonstrations, some has come from the first-grade curriculum, and some from other kids. In my younger daughter’s class of fours and fives, there’s been a lot of talk about a certain candidate being a “bad guy,” and kids of color have been told that “the bad guy doesn’t like them.”

    No matter what your political leanings, this season provides a great opportunity to talk with kids about your family’s values. Definitely some topics have been challenging to put into age-appropriate context, but in my family we’ve been talking a lot about fairness–not treating some people differently because of how they look, who they love, what church they go to, or what country they’re from–and about the importance of using respectful words even when you disagree with someone. And, recently, about why it’s important that we don’t touch other people’s bodies without their permission.

  • Ann

    Thank you for this post. Both for the very welcome advice, and for acknowledging this is happening. So many people carry on as usual, at least on the surface, that sometimes I feel like our entire nation is mentally ill.

  • Jennifer

    We have run into a similar issue with the regular nightly news causing some questions I wasn’t prepared for from our now 6 year old (my husband is a ‘must watch the news’ kind of person). I’ve found that honest and simple answers are the best. Even things you don’t think of as ‘scary’ can seem that way. Recently the video of store shelves being knocked over during an earthquake scared her; what did that, why did it happen, what happens if it happens here. I did my best to explain what it was and that we don’t have those here (the midwest) but we do have other things like tornadoes and we talked about being safe during storms and what a ‘safe place’ is and how we have an alert system. Knowing there are things you can do to be prepared seems to help.
    We’ve used most of the election coverage (what little she has payed any attention or or responded to our comments about) to remind her that a lot of what is on TV is made up or what someone thinks (she understands the general idea of having opinions vs facts) and that asking questions and looking things up yourself is always a good idea.