Bad news is inescapable. In today’s multi-platform, hyper-aware society, it is impossible to ignore the news. Almost every day we hear and read dreadful stories in the paper, on the television and, of course, all over the internet.
These days, when awful things happen, images of the tragedy immediately begin to circulate on the internet, and then filter down to local and national media.
Come the next morning, every newspaper is covering the event in detail, and the news covers the story on television for days and days and days.
What the journalists seem to forget is that teachers might be fielding questions from inquisitive and sensitive pupils on Monday morning.
I still remember my first tragedy – Dunblane, 1996. This was a time when the television news was on at set times during the day and didn’t run 24 hours on terrestrial television. We didn’t talk about what had happened at school, it was very sad and I was haunted by the story for several years. The teachers didn’t really know how to talk about it with us, and they were as shocked as we were.
Five short years later, and the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers was broadcast, as it happened, all over the world, 24-hours a day. I was at Sixth Form by then, but we talked about it in the common room, not in the classroom.
Now it would appear that every week, some awful event is taking place somewhere in the world, and all the gory details are just a click away, either on television or online, with not so much as a “turn away now” or “graphic content” notice to shield them from the horror.
So how does one explain a news story where somebody has died or a whole community has been destroyed?
When Doctor Dominic A Carone, a clinical neuropsychologist from Syracuse had to explain the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting to his children, he let them lead, allowing them to ask their own questions.
He had the conversation at the beginning of the day, before a fun activity which he said “displaced the bad news”.
Not all children will react that way, they may become upset, dwell on the tragedy or find links to their own life. For some children, bad news, like the death of a celebrity, might be very close to home if they have lost somebody in their family. So how do we talk to kids about sad news in the media?
CNN makes the following suggestions
Wait until they’re older – Until around age 7, only address the tough stuff if they bring it up first.
Keep it black and white – Reassure them that it isn’t happening to them, and it won’t happen to them.
Ask questions – Don’t assume you know how they are feeling about it. They might be afraid, they might be curious.
Don’t label feelings as wrong – However the child is feeling, let them know it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling.
Use it as a teaching moment – Depending on the age of the children, a class discussion or debate could be sparked, linking into the curriculum.
To end on a positive note, it is important to remember the resilience of children and how quickly the moment of sadness can pass, as Dr. Carone said, “I’m always amazed by kids. They take things in their stride.”