Helping Our Children (and Ourselves) Through “News Fatigue”
We wrote this article after the shootings in Newtown, CT. It seems like after last week, with the Boston Marathon bombings, poisoned letters again going through the mail system, the explosion in TX, the floodings that occurred in our area and then Boston being essentially closed, we, as a country were exhausted by the news of the nation.
At work last Friday, I realized so many people that I had contact with were experiencing “news fatigue.” I don’t think that “news fatigue” is an official term, anywhere, but that is the best way to describe what I saw. Everyone, it seems, was glued to their favorite cable news channel. And with parents watching the news, it is very likely that children are also watching the news.
Below are some tips for coping with the news when you children and then some ways for adults to cope.
Knowing your children will likely learn about these tragic events of violence, it is important that you be the primary dispenser of information. Also, you want to be aware of the effect this may have on their sense of security. They may have questions or may experience symptoms associated with anxiety, including nightmares, and will need you to help make their world safe again. You need to be the one to comfort and support them. You know your child the very best and will be able to give them the information in a way that they can handle.
Before you speak to your children, process your own reactions to the event with other adults so that you have an outlet for your emotions. Some parents want to avoid speaking to their children or do not think it is appropriate. Because of the nature of social media, if your child is around others, they will likely hear what happened. Of course, the version your kids hear from other children might not be accurate, or may include information that is age-inappropriate.
Remember to keep information age appropriate. For early school children brief information is the best and then answer questions as they come. Older elementary to middle school children they may ask tougher questions and have a more difficult time comprehending what occurred. Be prepared to answer their questions to the best of your ability and reassure them that you will do the best you can to protect them. High schoolers may have strong opinions on what happened.
In preparing to have these conversations remember also that for younger children the event may not be real to them. They may hear it but have little reaction since it has not impacted them directly. They cannot comprehend the full extent of the crisis.
- Begin a conversation emphasizing that the child is safe and in a case like the one in Connecticut, explaining how their school keeps them safe. Talk to them about the many ways we and the other adults around them keep them safe. For older children discuss the drills that happen at school and for younger children make a game out of it, having them point out all the ways that adults keep them safe.
- Turn off everything that has an “on” switch and listen. This does not have to be just a discussion about what happened tragedy is occurring but about anything. Having a space of time to talk and listen leads to lots of interesting discussions. For teens, invite them to “run errands” with you with a promise of a Starbucks stops at the end. For some teens, talking is easier to do when they aren’t looking at you. Do this frequently. Children need our time without having to share it without having to fight for our attention
- Watch how your child reacts. Some children don’t say much but their behavior can signal they are feeling. If they begin to have sleep or eating problems this may indicate some anxiety or depression. They may be absorbing more than you realize.
- Limit television exposure. The news is now 24 hours a day. It frequently repeats the same information just in different ways. If you must know what is occurring in the world, read a newspapers. Newspapers are limited in what information they can give. There are no links to click on to give more information or show pictures that are graphic and bloody. This can be confusing for a child. Each time the event is reported on television, for a child it can feel like it is happening again.
- Our children watch us. Model for them. Be aware of how much you are absorbing and how you are reacting. For older children sharing your sadness can be very appropriate but for younger children they may not be thinking of the event any longer. A parent continuing to discuss it, watch the news and focus on the event might be very upsetting to a child.
- Keep routines. Children need to know what happens next. They really have very little say in their lives, keeping the routine the same allows them some control. Routine is comforting for children. If you are struggling with keeping their routine consistent it may signal that you need to talk to someone about your own feelings.
As adults be sensitive to others. Be kind to others. Remember how others may be impacted by the events in Newton and be kind to them. Find opportunities to be kind and loving to those around you. Make contact with those around you and connect with others. Children will see the good in the world when they see you see the good in the world.
Volunteer your time as a family. Helping others creates a sense of control but also it creates a sense of confidence. It conveys that the world is a good place and that they have control over improving it.
Remember that each person’s reaction is very different. It is important to understand that some people chose to be very involved in the news and for other people they avoid the news completely. Allow for, and understand, that each person’s reaction is going to be different. Our reactions to events are shaped by so much of our previous life experiences. Be aware of your judgment of others.
Educate yourself about what is happening. Because the news has the motto, “if it bleeds, it leads” they might not be the best source for in-depth information (unless it is about a Kardashian, then there seems to be an abundant source of news…but I digress). Understanding a situation can help to reduce some of the unknowns.
Take care of yourself. Eat healthy. It is tempting when we are scared to eat what makes us feel comfortable, safe. Typically though, comfort food isn’t healthy. We want to hunker down on the couch and hold our loved ones close. It is important at times like these to get out and move. It reduced stress and makes us feel better. It just does.
And, talk to those that understand and will listen and support you. It’s times like this that we need those that support us and love us.
There is a quote from Mr. Rogers that has resonated with so many about the bad news in the world and our safety. It is important for not only children to understand but for adults to remember also.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look at the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster.” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in the world.”
If you sense that you or a family member is having difficulty coping with these event please do not hesitate to contact us.