Turning on the news these days is a very scary and upsetting experience for adults. A virus spread around the world, killing thousands and making hundreds of thousands more seriously ill. People confined to their homes indefinitely. Stores and schools closed. For adults, very scary indeed.
But what about the effects it is having on our children? Why can’t they go to the playground and play with their friends, or go to their friend’s house. Or why can’t their friends come to their house to play? How do you explain these things to young children without frightening them?
While not much yet exists about dealing with children’s fears about the coronavirus crisis, some experts have offered advice about handling those fears in young children when faced with scary news in general. These experts include child psychologists, the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement, Media and Young Minds, and the authorities at Common Sense media, which lists children-friendly news outlets. Here are some tips from their sources, as recounted by Paul L. Underwood, a writer on health care, in a New York Times online article, Is the News Too Scary for Kids (1/13/20):
COMFORT YOUR CHILD AND EXPLAIN WHY AND HOW SHE WILL BE SAFE IF SHE IS FRIGHTENED ABOUT THE CURRENT EVENTS. The reality is, no matter how much you might try to shield your children from the news, they are still likely to encounter it. When that happens, tread lightly, and ask questions to determine what they know. Resist the urge to over-explain-you might confuse them, or make them feel more threatened. The important thing is that they need reassurance that they are safe.
REMEMBER, CHILDREN CAN SEE IF SOMETHING IS UPSETTING YOU. “Kids are watching,” notes Dr. Eugene V. Berrsin, M.D., executive director of the Clay Center for young healthy minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “From the time they’re infants, they’re looking at your facial expressions. As toddlers they’re looking at how you react, and your tone of voice.”
If you get a troubling news alert during playtime, and it obviously affects your mood, explain the situation in the simplest terms, and again, reassure children that they are safe. Explaining the source of your stress also reassures your children that the problem isn’t them.
WHEN THEY’RE READY; INVESTIGATE KID-FRIENDLY MEDIA OUTLETS. While your children might still be too young for the daily paper or the evening news , they may be ready for more in depth newsy topics.
As previously ntoted, Common Sense has a helpful list of child-friendly news outlets, arranged by age level. (Alvarez especially recommends Newsela, a free, bilingual website and app that provide different news readings for different grade levels.) These include print publications, online outlets and mobile apps (as well as The Learning Network from The Times).
Again, and it can’t be stressed enough, young children need to see that you are there to protect them from harm and that they are safe.