When children go to school, their days consist of learning about more than just academics and you are faced with how to ease the anxiety of troublesome news.
For the first time, they are interacting with adults and children from all backgrounds, without a parent’s input.
We no longer can control what our children hear, see, eat and do even if we believe it is in their best interests not to know.
It is natural to want to protect our children from the awful news that surrounds us, but once they leave home for the day, they may be informed about things we wish they didn’t know.
Death, drugs, divorce, war, abuse, abduction and loss of jobs and other life-altering crisis are happening everywhere and sometimes it happens right in our own backyard.
In truth, knowledge is power.
Knowing what can upset our children and reacting proactively can help ease the anxiety of troublesome news.
So, how do we provide enough news to keep them informed, yet not scared that something that is happening to someone else could happen in their lives?
How do we help our children to process news without it becoming a distraction?
What if the information is not age-appropriate?
Or what if another confides in your child that he or she is in a potentially dangerous situation?
The first step to helping your child is to stay informed; ask him what happened at school (be careful not to interrogate) and listen attentively to what he or she says.
Discuss recess, lunch and the bus, since these are key times for “the exchange of news.” Encourage your child to speak freely about what they may have heard or seen.
The hardest part is what to do when the news is something that is troubling? Here are five situations that need to be followed up:
How to ease the anxiety of troublesome news like the illness or death of a student, classmate’s parent or a teacher:
Death is always scary to a child; the death of a classmate’s parent, whether sudden or expected will affect your child. They will be sad for their classmate, but also scared that the same fate could befall them.
Allow them to verbalize these fears. However rare, your child may have to face the death of a classmate; it is critical that a child be encouraged to grieve.
Most schools will have trained staff available to help classmate cope with loss. If you see a change in your child’s demeanor or behavior, let school officials know.
How to ease the anxiety of troublesome news like a stranger abduction, threats or rumors:
Every so often, we hear reports, real or unsubstantiated about strangers approaching unattended children on their way home from school.
From the time your child can walk or talk, they need to hear about personal safety. Children are naturally social beings and will forget everything you teach them if a friendly face approaches.
They are never too young or too old to be reminded not to talk with strangers, to report suspicious cars and people to an adult and stay in groups whenever possible.
Many local law enforcement agencies run workshops to help youngsters develop personal safety plans. Check with your town officials to see if one is available.
How to ease the anxiety of troublesome news like “my mom/dad hit me with a belt” or “someone touched me”:
Children in crisis may often confide physical or sexual abuse allegations to other children before telling an adult.
Your child may be troubled that he knows, but was sworn not to tell a soul. If the accusations result in an investigation, your child may feel that he betrayed his friend by revealing this information.
Yet, the claims may be so troubling, you are conflicted. According to child development specialist, the rule of thumb is “children don’t lie” and if a youngster says they were abused, they probably were.
(Reporting this information to a school will result in an investigation. Teachers, medical personal, police officers, mental health professionals, day care providers and others directly working with minors are mandated reporters.)
How to ease the anxiety of troublesome news like fires, floods, or natural disaster:
It is natural for the school to rally around a family in crisis. When fires, hurricanes, floods and other disasters happen around us, it brings out the best in people.
Children feel helpless and want to help; allow them to select something they no longer use to donate. If the victim of loss is a classmate, encourage your child to donate part of his allowance to any monetary collection.
How to ease the anxiety of troublesome news like “my friend is moving”:
Before the age of 10 or so, a child will easily adapt to the departure of a schoolmate. Expect your child to talk about his friend or classmate’s move.
If the move is planned, ask you child if they want to host a going-away dinner or luncheon and invite a small group of shared friends.
If the relocation is nearby, let your child know there may be opportunities for a reunion, but if the move is a great distance away, be realistic and encourage the exchange of addresses or emails.
In the event of the departure of a very close friend, expect your child to undergo a “mourning period” but should move on very fast.
Older children will feel a greater loss; pre-teens tend to pare down their relationships to a few close confidants and the relocation of a friend will have a significant impact.
Regardless of the circumstances of the move, most children have concerns that they too may be asked to leave their school and friends behind.
If relocation is a possibility, prepare your children in advance and allow them to age-appropriately participate in any plans.
Many school districts now have a telephone alert system in place to keep parents abreast of incidents that happen inside or out of the classroom and let them prepare for how they will ease the anxiety of troublesome news.
Some schools send home letters as a means of communication. Another source of information is the local town’s Facebook or Patch community.
Expect other parents to freely post things that they’ve heard. In many cases, you may be informed of news, before your child; remember, if you don’t tell them, someone else will!
Jen is a regular contributing author for HowToLearn.com