One of the most challenging responsibilities of teaching is explaining the evils of the world while protecting students from the emotional impact of the evil you’re telling them about. Children need both. They need to hear the truth about what’s going on in the world, and they need you to help guide them emotionally.
Here are five tips:
1. Give students the facts.
Young readers should only be exposed to simple, straightforward information. For example, articles in myON News , powered by News-O-Matic, will always avoid excessive detail. Also ensure that the imagery you use is sensitive and age-appropriate. A good approach to particularly tough news is to read the article together as a group.
2. Focus on the positive.
Bad things happen. There will always be natural disasters or other scary news. But an article about it doesn’t have to be entirely negative. There are often silver linings in any event. As Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”) once said, “Look for the helpers.” Most media outlets begin their accounts of scary news with violence. (“If it bleeds, it leads,” as the adage goes.) On the other hand, tough news for children should never begin with violent descriptions.
3. Prepare yourself.
Children will take cues from how you’re dealing with the news, so use calming techniques before you talk with them. Be mindful of what your body language is saying. It’s okay to show that you’re vulnerable. Explain how you feel, why you feel that way, and how being with people whom you love helps pull you through the emotional pain.
4. Listen carefully.
Repeat back the students’ words as statements so it’s clear you understand how they feel. Expect diverse feelings. Children feel many ways when tragedy strikes, not one way only. Be validating, supportive, and nonjudgmental.
5. Do activities and take action.
To help students express their distress, it can help to play some games, do puzzles together, or plan some other enjoyable activity. Young readers may also want to take action. Many myON News articles will provide tips for students to help people in need.
Note: For more extreme emotional reactions (phobic avoidance, for example), please contact a mental health professional.
Dr. Phyllis Ohr is a child psychologist for News-O-Matic.