Is no news good news?
ASK THE EXPERT:Q&A
I am looking for advice on how best to explain to my six-year-old child about all the bad news you hear on the radio or in the newspaper.
During the day I often have the radio on and she has begun to listen in and try to work out what is being said.
When the news comes on and there is a serious road traffic accident, or a report of a murder or the conflict in Syria, she will ask me what they are talking about and expect me to explain.
I tend to avoid the question or give her a very watered down summary, as I am worried about frightening her or telling her too much too young about all the bad things that happen in the world.
It is worse with the TV news, when there are accompanying images which she is sure to ask about. Now I find myself turning off the TV and radio when the news comes on and only reading the newspaper when she is in bed (as she peers over my shoulder and asks about the stories).
I know this is not the right approach and I know that I will have to explain bad news to her . . . but how do you explain bad news to a child – such as a child abduction or murder – without worrying them?
Maintaining a young child’s innocence and informing them about the world’s troubles is a delicate balance to get right as a parent.
There is a good rationale for protecting children from unnecessary worry and only explaining to them about the harder side of life when they need to know – such as when they experience a loss themselves or when they naturally ask questions.
The world’s media can be dominated by bad news, and frequently they present harrowing details that can scare children and worry them unnecessarily.
Though this news is not directed at them, many young children can become aware of it and even actively take an interest in it, so it is important as a parent to think how you are going to deal with this.
There is a virtue in simply reducing your children’s exposure to news, as you are doing, and to make the choice not to watch explicit “bad news” programmes in their presence. Certainly, many adults make these choices themselves and find their own mental health improved when they reduce the amount of such stories they listen to.
However, it is important to strike a balance and you don’t want to always avoid difficult issues. Indeed, jumping up to switch off the TV or radio when a bad news story comes on might give them a message that there is something to worry about and increase their anxiety.
In addition, children will hear of bad news stories from other sources such as their friends in school, and at some point you do need to think how to explain these to your children. You don’t want to bring them up in an exclusively “Pollyanna world” and it is best that information about the hard side of life comes from you as their parent and not just from their peers or the TV.