When Your Child Sees the News
Yes, Mrs. Mallard, the world can seem a very scary place to your little ducklings.
You only turn on the news after the kids are in bed.
You switch the radio station at “breaking news.”
You place the newspaper facedown on the kitchen counter.
You give “the eye” to your father-in-law who is ramping up.
You kick your husband under the table when he forgets that “little pitchers have big ears.”
But as diligent as you are, the Big Scary News always seems to find a way into your little one’s brain. And the questions begin.
And Mommy, you don’t know why. You don’t know what to say. How can you? No one really knows how to explain what is happening. The concepts are so complex and the problems are so twisted and frayed, grown-ups are struggling to comprehend and understand. What do you say to someone whose biggest problem should be getting her shoes on the right feet?
But you can’t lie and say it isn’t anything, that it doesn’t matter. Because it does matter. It matters a whole lot.
Here are wise words from our beloved Fred Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.
Your friend Mister Rogers would also advise you to turn off the TV. News stations repeat images many times, and very young children don’t yet understand that it isn’t an event that’s happening again and again. Also, we adults sometimes forget to control our reactions and expressions—and it is very frightening to see your parent being scared or overly emotional.
While you are arranging your thoughts and answers, ask your own question: “What have you heard?” might reveal your child’s level of understanding or even the source of his news. “Johnny’s daddy said that we’re all gonna die” might make you want to pick up the phone and give Johnny’s daddy a piece of your mind, but it also gives you a starting point for your containment efforts. (By the way, don’t pick up the phone.)
One of the best pieces of advice to remember is to hold onto each other. Embracing your child telegraphs so many things—concern, anguish, care, love, forgiveness, kindness, and safety. Hug it out, man.
Do something positive together. If you are a family that prays, then pray. If you are a family that donates, then donate. If you are a family that writes letters, write a letter. Light a candle. Send up a balloon. Draw a picture. Even the tiniest action is a step toward understanding and coping.
Need a little booster for your own full-to-overflowing heart? Science says that being kind makes us happy. Do a good deed. Hold a door. Offer an arm. Let the guy with only a carton of milk go in front of you at the grocery store. You will feel better. And you will be setting an awesome example for your children.
Hope this helps.
Peace and love.
Illustration from Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. Copyright 1941, The Viking Press.