How to talk to kids about the news

As parents, we want to protect our kids from anything that might cause them worry. However, for kids living through a pandemic, or who have a first responder parent, this ideal isn’t always possible.  

The next best thing is to help our kids understand what’s going on. 

While many of us remember seeing a morning newspaper on the table and hearing a few headlines at 6pm during our childhoods, this generation of kids is exposed to the news far more. News is everywhere: on our television screens, radios, newspapers, on the internet and social media, and in our conversations. 

With bushfires and a pandemic this year alone, the news they’re hearing is also complex. 

Part of our role as parents is to arm this connected generation with the skills to understand and cope with all this information. 

When to start the conversation 

If your children are still young – that is, babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and early primary school – then you can breathe a sigh of relief. In these early stages, children are still quite focused on themselves.  

The Australian Council on Children and the Media says young children can find it difficult to understand that what they see on the news isn’t happening in their own life.  

It’s too early to expose them to the news or chat with them about what’s going on in the world. 

As they grow older, though, kids become more curious about what’s happening around them and where they – and their parents, particularly if they’re in the first responder community – fit in with it. This will happen at different ages with different children, but it’s generally around mid- to late-primary school onwards. 

That’s when you can start letting them see more news. Often, that’s best done in a controlled way: watching the news on TV is difficult as you don’t know what’s going to come on next, while showing them a story in the newspaper or online news site means you can discuss a topic that you decide is appropriate. 

As the months and years tick by, you can no longer shield your kids from the confronting news stories – but you can support them as they work out what it all means. 

Help them understand 

When your kids are seeing the news, it’s important to discuss it with them. For example, during the bushfires you might talk to your children about where the fires are and who is affected. 

Ask your child for their thoughts on the news story, to help them develop their opinions and critical thinking skills. 

It’s a good idea to follow that up with some reassurance – perhaps letting your child know that the fires aren’t a threat to them, or if you’re in a risk area you could chat through your family’s fire plan. 

If they’re concerned that their first responder parent is in danger at work, start some conversations about the safety precautions that are taken and that only the most extreme stories appear in the news. 

Most importantly, we need to share hope with our kids. 

When talking about the latest COVID-19 numbers or restrictions, you might follow up with discussions about vaccinations or treatments, or what they’re looking forward to doing when restrictions ease. 

If you’re talking about the bushfires or other natural disasters, you can brainstorm ideas about how your family can help those in need. 

We can’t always keep the news from our kids, but we can send them to bed feeling hopeful.