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Helping children make sense of world events and distressing news

2022 has so far presented us with distressing news of major events such as the ongoing Covid pandemic, more recently the war in Ukraine, and closer to home, the floods in NSW and QLD. It is likely that children of all ages have been exposed to news of these events in some way either via seeing them on TV, tuning into adult discussions or hearing things from their peers in the schoolyard. In addition to this, children are now more connected than ever with a 2018 eSafety Commissioner survey finding that the majority of Australian children preschool-age and above have regular access to the internet via iPads, tablets or smartphones.

Having access to the 24-hour news cycle at their fingertips may lead to feelings of confusion or distress in children and young people. Research has also shown that exposure to traumatic events via the media may also have long-term effects on children including increased anxiety, and for some children, symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Children and young people may also be exposed to misinformation or graphic scenes relating to current events via social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

The Raising Children Network provides some great information around how parents and caregivers can talk to children about distressing news and events. This advice includes:

  1. Making time to talk. Allow your child the time they need to talk to you and give them your full attention.

  2. Acknowledge and find out what your child knows. Ask your child what they already know and if they have any questions.

  3. Explain what has happened. Stick to the facts and try to provide some context. If you need some assistance in explaining the news event to your child, there are some great resources that can assist. For example, the ABC’s Behind the News (BTN) program is an Australian educational news program aimed at 10–13-year-old children which provides age-appropriate access to news and current affairs.

  4. Talk about feelings. Ask your child how they are feeling, acknowledge that it is ok to have these feelings and find out what they might need to feel better.

You can click here to access the full article with additional tips and information.

Talking to children about complex and distressing news events can be tricky; however, ensuring your child knows they can talk to you if they are feeling anxious or concerned will help them understand that you’ll be there to listen when something is worrying them.

Please see below a list of additional resources for parents and caregivers:

  • Save The Children has some additional tips for talking to children about distressing news.

  • Beyond Blue have developed a tip sheet for families that includes changes in your child’s behaviour to be aware of which may indicate that they might be feeling distressed about the news.

  • The Raising Children Network has tip sheets for talking to children of certain ages about distressing news in the media.

For specific advice on how to talk to young children aged 2-5 years click here.

For specific advice on how to talk to teenagers click here.


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