January 7, 2021

Talking to children about current events

Tips to help you listen, answer questions, and offer support to kids and teens.

When upsetting events occur in our communities and unfold 24/7 in the news, parents face the often difficult task of talking with their children and teens about what happened. These aren’t easy conversations. As a parent, you want your children to feel safe, but how do you do that when you may be struggling yourself?

“Life will present our children with change, tragedy, loss, and illness — we can't avoid it,” said Don Mordecai, MD, national mental health leader for Kaiser Permanente. “Show your children that when they experience extraordinary news, negative emotions, or distress, you’ll be there to listen and to help. Above all else, take steps to be present, honest, and a source of comfort and calm.”

Dr. Mordecai offers these suggestions to help parents and children have these conversations:

  • Foster open dialogue. Ask how they are feeling. When talking to your children, you want to be open, but age-appropriate. It’s best to share just the information they’re asking for, and not go into excessive detail on components they may not even be aware of. If you don’t know the answers to the questions your children are asking you, it's ok to say that. Consider researching the answer together.
  • Help them find their words. It can be hard for children to express how they’re feeling. Start with open-ended questions to move the conversation along, and let young children use books or pictures to help share their emotions. For older children, suggest writing letters or journaling.
  • Validate their feelings. Let your kids know that it’s completely normal to be curious, confused, and even upset about current events. Acknowledge what they've said to you or what they are feeling. Use validating phrases like “I feel that way too” or “That really makes sense to me.” You can also validate feelings by giving your children a hug or giving them the space they might need to think and process.
  • Always give hope. Focus on the fact that the majority of the time, in most places and cities around the world, we are safe. Reassure them that you, their extended family, and the community are committed to keeping everyone healthy and safe during these times.

For additional tips for starting a conversation with your children and getting support for yourself or for someone you care about, visit FindYourWords.

Parents, be sure to look for tools to help support your mental health and wellness. Today’s digital world offers a dizzying array of apps and tools, and it’s often hard to pick through them to find trusted sources. Take advantage of myStrength and Calm, digital self-care apps that provide mental wellness and mindfulness resources to Kaiser Permanente members at no additional cost.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, or other mental or emotional issue, it’s important to get connected to the care and support you need. Kaiser Permanente members can visit kp.org/mentalhealth to get connected to care. We’re offering many of our services virtually, for added convenience and safety. For immediate help for a mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.