Images that your children see on the news can be disturbing, especially during times of uncertainty or deployment. While it may be impossible to completely shelter your children from tragic or overwhelming news stories, you can offer protection by monitoring the amount of media coverage that they are exposed to.
Children, especially young children, can be deeply disturbed by graphic pictures or detailed, graphic descriptions. However, children may benefit by knowing basic, accurate information about a tragic event since they may overhear details from classmates, friends or media outlets. Simply explaining the facts to your children may not be enough to help them understand certain events. Encourage your children to ask questions and share feelings, which may help with the coping process.
Watching the news with your child
Your children's age can help you determine how much of the news, if any, is appropriate for them to view.
- Infants, toddlers and preschoolers - Even at a young age, your children can understand that something bad has happened, perhaps through your reaction. Toddlers and preschoolers can understand harm or damage from images on a newscast.
- Young, school-aged children - Your young children may not be able to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Depending on your children's personality, they might believe that the images on the news are "make believe," that they are responsible, or that they may soon be the victims of a similar situation. Assure your children that they are not responsible, and that the tragic event happened far away.
- Adolescents - Teens can understand and talk about the events on the news. Help further your teen's comprehension of an event by having a casual discussion and asking and answering questions.
Suggestions for your children and the news
You know your children better than anyone and may best understand what they can handle when it comes to news coverage. Besides simply limiting or monitoring what your children watch, consider the following suggestions for media exposure.
- Watch the news with your children. Once your children are old enough, watch the news together. This will help you understand how much they know.
- Avoid watching the news over and over. You may want to learn as much as possible about a developing story, especially one that my affect a deployed loved one, but repeat exposure to disturbing facts and images can be upsetting to your children at any age.
- Talk about what you see on the news. Give your children your full attention and allow time for questions and for them to express feelings.
- Limit media exposure, especially before bedtime. Help your children get a good night's sleep by turning the news off well before bedtime.
- Limit exposure to military specific stories. Especially during periods of a loved one's deployment, limit what your children see and hear about overseas military actions. Remind your children that the news often covers tragic or negative events, but positive things are also happening.
Helping your children cope with media coverage
Tragic news stories or continuing stories of events overseas during a period of a loved one's deployment can be difficult for your children to process. Feelings of fear, confusion and compassion are all possible, and your children will count on you for support and clarification. Help your children better understand a tragic event with the following tips:
- Keep things as normal as possible. Continue daily routines, including mealtimes and bedtimes. Consistency will help your children feel secure. Allow some flexibility to meet additional emotional needs they may have.
- Allow some flexibility to meet your children's additional emotional needs. Your children may need extra hugs, want to add a bedtime prayer for victims, ask extra questions at the dinner table, write letters, or draw pictures for the victims. This extra attention can help your children feel safe.
- Teach tolerance. Help your children understand that it is wrong to blame an entire religious or ethnic group for the actions of a few.
- Give your children the necessary information. You might begin by asking your children what they already know, and answering any questions. Read your children's responses to determine how much information they need to hear.
- Reassure your children. Do what you can to make your children feel safe and cared for. Watch for signs of developing fear, anxiety or behavioral changes.
- Stay positive. Many events in the news can be depressing, and it may be difficult for your children to put these images aside and go on with daily life. Focus on positive ways your children can help, like finding ways to support victims through food drives or fundraisers.
No matter your children's age or your situation, you can support and comfort your children by being available and honest when they have questions or concerns. Remind your children that all emotions, like fear, guilt, confusion and anger, are normal and offer ways to help them cope.