The past two weeks have brought some scary stories to our news cycle. With fears of coronavirus and a terrible tornado stunning Nashville, your children may be feeling worried and nervous. How can we talk to children about scary news?
I think this one tip can be very helpful: Let children lead your discussion.
Assess what they know. Start off by asking what your child has heard about the scary thing (coronavirus, tornado, etc.). That way you answer the questions they have—not the questions you assume they have. (If we answer questions they don’t have, we risk adding to their anxiety with things they hadn’t even thought of.)
Give children a chance to voice their worries. You’ll find that often what’s on their minds is very specific: What if my mum gets sick? Can children die? Will a tornado come to our house?
When you have those difficult discussions from the starting point of their own questions and worries, you can often help lessen their fears because you address them head-on.
How do you answer their questions? Here are some thoughts.
1. Be honest and direct with your answers.
In all of my writing, I make it a point never to talk down to children. I think the same is true for talking about hard news: children need direct, honest answers, not empty reassurances. For example, many children right now are scared about coronavirus. I found this comic published by NPR to be very helpful in clearly and directly addressing the coronavirus with children. You’ll have to use your discretion about whether it’s age-appropriate for your child. But it’s one good example of factual, direct information that children can understand. It tells the truth in age-appropriate ways.
2. Focus on the helpers.
We can take a lesson from Mr. Rogers, who said, “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.’” Doctors, scientists, and teachers are helping with the coronavirus. First responders, nonprofits, and entire communities are helping in the aftermath of the Nashville tornado. Show children that helpers are all around and that you – no matter how small – can be a helper, too. Think of ways you can help together, and do an action that makes children feel like they’re contributing. (Here are some ways to help Nashville, for example.)
3. Remind children that God is in charge.
This excerpt from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing might help:
Every morning we enter a new day. Who knows what the day will bring?
Which is why he tells us not to be afraid. He has already gone ahead of us into the new day. He knows the way, what will happen, all we’ll need.
In the morning we can put our day in his hands. And let him bring into our day–into our year!–whatever he has for us.
And then, in the evening, we give it back to him. And trust him with all that happened in it.
So let your children lead those hard conversations about their worries. Listen to them. Take their fears seriously. And let those conversations lead back to this truth, that God knows what the day will bring, and we don’t have to be afraid.
Sally Lloyd-Jones is a New York Times bestselling children’s book writer. Her books include the Platinum Book Award winning, ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’ and the beautiful new picture book set Found and Loved.