National disasters and alarming events have always impacted our mental wellbeing. And for kids, there is often another level of fear and terror that they experience when they hear – or experience – events like Australia’s current bushfires.
It can leave parents or guardians in a confusing position, because while they want to stay informed, the news makes kids feel anxious and afraid. If you consider the fact that technology now allows us to access news 24/7, and that kids not only access this at home but in general conversation at school, then it makes sense that they feel overwhelmed. And to be honest, lots of us do too.
We can’t hide the reality of crises from our kids. Even if we try to keep the news from them, they will inevitably hear and see it out in public, through others or they will sense your own anxiety. However, that doesn’t mean we blast them with negatives and make them lose hope.
Here are six ways you can talk about crises with your kids, that will keep them informed, but also them from alarm.
- Be honest
If your child asks a question or appears curious, be honest with them. Ask if they understand what is going on, tell them where it is happening, and explain with care how it affects people. You don’t want to overwhelm your child with facts and figures, but at the same time, too little information may cause them more anxiety, so play it by ear. After all, you know your child best.
If you don’t know the answer to all your child’s questions, that’s ok. Questions like, “Why do people do bad things?” or “What happens to people when they die?” are not always easy to answer, and your own values and belief system will determine how you navigate this with your child. You may even offer to help your child find the answer, or turn the question back on them so they can develop a greater understanding of it themselves.
- Speak age-appropriately
Kids of different ages will understand crises and tragedy differently. A young child may lack the comprehension to know what is going on, but will sense the fear and anxiety in the air. An older child will have some sense that things are wrong, and perhaps scary. And a preteen may be ready to hear more information and need to stay informed.
Alter your language and explanation of the events depending on their age. It could be as simple as saying, “There are bushfires and the firefighters are working hard to stop them.”
These free books by the Queensland Government are a great tool for explaining crises to young kids. They have created the character ‘Birdie’ to explain bushfires, cyclones(hurricanes), flooding, drought and more. You can find them here.
- Emphasise their safety
Your child’s primary concern will be their safety, and the safety of their loved ones, friends and home. When you tell them that something is wrong, highlight that you will always keep them safe, no matter what. If a disaster is distant, this is a bit easier. But in the case where the crises is close to home, or your are taking action to protect yourself, explain that while you are together, you are safe.
- Focus on the helpers
When your child asks about crises, focus on the helpers in the aftermath of the situation. In a natural disaster, this would be the firefighters, the charities and volunteers, and the people saving wildlife or rebuilding. In a terror attack, this would be the police on the ground, the brave passers-by, the medical staff and the communities showing their support.
By focusing on the helpers, you take away the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ label that we tend to throw on people groups, political leanings, religions or cultures following a crises. Inevitably, you will find people of all backgrounds doing incredible things to help the cause – show your child this. And remember to emphasise that for all the bad things in the world, there is so much more good.
- Ask them how they would like to help
A crises makes a child feel out of control and unsafe. By empowering them to step up and help out, you help them to regain their sense of safety and security. If your child shows an interest in helping out, or needs a productive way to get out their anxiety, you can help them volunteer, donate, or do a craft project that supports the survivors or victims. Obviously choose an activity that is age appropriate and safe, but follow their creativity. From fundraisers to art work, stories, knitted items or food collection, the sky is the limit for a kid with a mission.
- Monitor their media consumption
Your child is consuming news in any number of ways – TV, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, articles, school assignments, conversation, billboards….you get the idea. If they have a screen in front of them, it’s best to assume they are accessing the news in some way on it, even if it’s just their favourite celebrity posting photos of the disaster. This can take a big toll on their mental health and sense of safety.
The best way you can monitor their intake of the news is to limit screen time. This could mean cutting out the 6 o’clock news completely (you can access it later on catchup, or read the paper) or cutting off screen time from social media. You might restrict what they read or watch by selecting a short program that the family watches together, or replace time you would normally watch the news with a family activity or walk. When they do consume the news, create a space to talk about what they have seen, heard and answer any questions they have.
Our Children’s Specialist Rachel is offering one free session for children affected by the bushfires. To book in call her on 0422 177 193.
Are your kids anxious about the bushfires? Are you trying to calm their anxiety about a natural disaster or tragedy? Here’s what you need to do: Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245, Duncan on 0434 331 243 or Rachel on 0422 177 193 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online.