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Helping Young Children Deal with Disturbing News Coverage

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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It’s right in your face, 24/7… terrorist attacks, shootings, disasters, accidents, and violence. This can be upsetting for adults, not to mention children.

Last week I couldn’t turn on any screen without seeing the eye-witness phone video of a state fair ride in a neighboring state, breaking apart and hurling riders to the ground. I remember gasping the first time I saw it, kind of surprised to see such graphic coverage on network television. But, as I thought about it more, I realized this was what we are all coming to expect from the news. Later that day, I met my neighbor and her daughter while walking my dogs. Little Megan was so excited to tell me she was going to the fair with Mommy and Daddy. She quickly added, “But we can’t ride on that one ride that broke and people got dead.” Her mother shared that unfortunately, Megan had also seen that video.

When I was growing up, most news coverage was in the newspaper and often a day old. There were grainy photos and copy I was yet unable to read. Television coverage consisted of some film and still photos taken by journalists. Today, everyone is a photojournalist, capturing news as it happens on their phones and there it is… in real time, on the big screen, in living color, and largely uncensored.

You could argue we are much better informed, but this has come at a cost to young children. They just don’t have the ability to comprehend news events in context. It becomes a barrage of disturbing images, voices, and information they can’t fully process. And, many times, parents aren’t around to help them process it at all.

Much of what comes across our TVs and other devices is intended for adults and what children hear and see may not be age-appropriate. Complicating things even more is the fact that many children have access to their own tablets, phones, and TVs.

upset girl

Alarming or upsetting news can affect children emotionally. They can feel frightened, worried, and even angry. The resulting anxiety can be long-lasting, even after the news event becomes old news.

So, what can we do to help children deal with all this information?

Turn it off. Preschool children don’t need to see or hear about things that are scary or upsetting. At their cognitive stage, they can very easily confuse fears or fantasy with facts.

Reassure them that they are safe. Young children are very concerned about the safety of the adults with whom they are attached and will worry about becoming separated. This may not seem rational, but it can be a real concern for them.

Do something together. Although we do want to listen to and acknowledge a child’s concerns and fears, making time to cuddle up and watch something happy or doing something together can bring comfort and security. It is also usually more effective than dwelling on the upsetting event, by trying to give some logical explanations a young child probably won’t be able to understand anyway.

tv watching

Be careful about how you react. Young children use social referencing to decide how to respond to things. If adults remain calm and level-headed, children will, too.

We can’t always shield children from the things they just aren’t ready for or that have no place in their childhood. Vigilance, reassurance, and love can make the best of a bad situation.

shy kids

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Sunday, 24 September 2017