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Opinion I How to talk to your kids about news?

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Several news channels are now contemplating going free-to-air as pay TV hasn’t penetrated the rural market. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

A six-step guide to discussing difficult events taking place in the world today

To share or not to share news of current happenings with the children? That is one of the many dilemmas we face as parents today. If we decide to do so, then how much information is safe to share? Sometimes, even before we can make up our minds about it, kids have already heard the news, either blaring on the television sets or during discussion at the table. It just doesn’t stop at whether to share or not, but how does one make soft landings with such hard news? How does one deal with emotions and ensuing questions? And, most importantly, how to duck the ones we are not ready to talk about just yet? With school still shut, children have become directly impacted by this unfortunate world crisis. They want to ask questions about the multiple changes taking place around them. One thing I have ensured personally is that they get their answers from me. I would rather be the one they ask instead of seeking answers on the internet.

To share or not to share news of current happenings with the children? That is one of the many dilemmas we face as parents today. If we decide to do so, then how much information is safe to share? Sometimes, even before we can make up our minds about it, kids have already heard the news, either blaring on the television sets or during discussion at the table. It just doesn’t stop at whether to share or not, but how does one make soft landings with such hard news? How does one deal with emotions and ensuing questions? And, most importantly, how to duck the ones we are not ready to talk about just yet? With school still shut, children have become directly impacted by this unfortunate world crisis. They want to ask questions about the multiple changes taking place around them. One thing I have ensured personally is that they get their answers from me. I would rather be the one they ask instead of seeking answers on the internet.

At times, we start providing answers even before listening to the entire question. Take time to hear the kids out, encourage a dialogue, ask open-ended questions and ask them what they want to know. I strongly suggest we try and listen to what they are seeking from us. Are they looking for facts? Or are they communicating an emotion, seeking reassurance, or something else? Being an active listener will help you understand the purpose of the enquiry and enable you to handle it better.

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Shwetambara Sabharwal
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Stick to the truth and admit when you don't know something

I am very particular about not making up stories with children. To me, it indicates a deep disrespect and an underestimation of their ability to understand, process and cope with challenges. Most of the time, parents keep information from children. They are concerned about the drastic consequences or internal struggles that the information might trigger. Now here's the thing. Research shows that dramatic reactions are learned responses. And as far as internal mechanisms to process difficult news are concerned, we will never have a chance to prepare kids if we do not talk to them honestly.

No need to over share

I have often observed parents giving long scientific, philosophical and even mathematically calculated answers to a child's simple question such as “why is the bee buzzing?" When it comes to questions about nature, I am certainly guilty of the same. However, in case of current affairs and news, it’s important for us to stick to short answers. Follow this discussion up with questions about what they feel about this information.

Reassure children, accept their feelings and share yours too

Watch out for words and emotions that indicate distress, signs of anxiety or confusion. We can address this in various ways, one of them being sharing with them our own feelings. This indicates that their feelings are normal and acceptable. Talk about how you cope with these feelings, empowering your children with ideas to cope with theirs.

Use the opportunity to impart information on any particular aspect of the news and introduce the idea of problem solving. It could be trying to invent a machine for mass sanitisation or a design for a comfortable mask.

Bring it closer to home

One way of discussing news is by talking about things that impact them at home. And when they start role playing news anchors, you will be surprised to see how much they actually know. This will bring into sharp focus things that are impacting them the most during this difficult time. This fun role play will help acquaint you with some of their unspoken feelings as well.

Talk about good news too

Every day as I scroll through e-newspapers and articles, I do make it a point to mark out some positive news to share with my children. I believe that I can be a source of hope, gratitude and motivation for my children.

We talk about good news from their school, their homework, sports, women community workers, and non-governmental organisations doing some incredible work to reach help to those in need, or farming hamlets receiving electricity and meals as support.

Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.

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