DIARIO DI MAMMA
“Mommy, I wanna watch your shows,” says my son every night after I read him a book and just before we drift off to sleep. My “shows” are the TV news. I studied journalism, and I’ve always caught up on the day’s events before bed. It has become part of our routine. Yes, my son is not even 5 years old yet, and he watches the news. Nowadays, we’re usually viewing talking heads chattering on about who is less believable, Trump or Clinton.
But last week, I witnessed the killing of two black men at the hands of police and then the shootings of Dallas police officers by a madman. Recently, a truck plowed through a crowded national celebration in Nice, France and killed more than 80 people and injured dozens more in an apparent terrorist attack. Of course, I’ve shut off the news. But my son has seen bits and pieces of what’s going on. Sometimes he asks questions. I try to answer honestly, but I’m never sure if I’m taking the right approach. So, I spent some time reading up on the subject. Here is what I learned:
- Pay attention to your own feelings. Hear the news and process what’s happening before you have a discussion with your kids. “First, you have to process your own emotional response. What you do will affect them more than what you say,” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert on Today.com. “Have your first reaction away from your child.” This allows you to give more careful thought to what has happened and what you will say.
- Figure out how much you have to cover in the conversation. Most experts on parenting and psychology say you should never ignore questions that come up, but you must make sure you’re addressing them in a way that fits your unique child’s needs. You should, of course, also consider how personally affected your child will be by whatever is happening. For instance, if a relative of yours is a victim of a terrorist attack, you’ll have to share more than if this is something far removed from your lives.
- Be honest and offer an age-appropriate response. You should try to shield younger children from heavy news whenever you can. When they end up seeing something and asking a question, keep it as brief as possible. Experts suggest saying no more than a sentence. For instance, “Bad guys hurt good people, and the police are the heroes saving everyone.” You might also say that “This is happening miles away from us, so we’re perfectly safe.” Then, try to distract them. Of course, older children require more explanation, and they will likely have follow-up questions. Have common sense and know their limitations as you answer. Teens might want to take action and do something about what they’re seeing on TV. Encourage such actions, within reason, of course. For example, a teen might see what has been happening between minorities and police and want to participate in community outreach programs to better unite those of different races and cultures. You might suggest doing this as a family.
- Watch how they literally play out the world’s events. Many young children will reenact things they have seen on the news while playing or in their art work. Some parents expressed concern about children knocking down towers post 9/11 or pretending to drown in puddles after Hurricane Sandy, according to PBS Parents. They fear the violent play could normalize violent actions and trauma down the road or in effect teach kids to shoot, bomb, etc. But many experts argue that prohibiting the play can backfire or make the kids hide their reenactments from you. You are better off watching the play and using it as an opportunity to spark conversation about right and wrong and what these violent actions mean in real life. Again, you would have to be careful about being age appropriate. However, it could prove a window into the mind of your child and his or her insight into the day’s happenings.
- Don’t worry if your child isn’t showing interest. Don’t force it, especially if your child is younger. In fact, it might be better because some of this news is scary and inexplicable to adults, never mind children. In time, they will begin to associate with the world around them. Just be ready whenever that happens.