A bit of news is healthy for children, as long as it comes in kiddie-sized portions with a decent helping of parental explanation to follow.
As grown ups, it can be hard to know how to discuss news and current affairs with your children. So how important is it for children to have a grasp of the wider world and how can you draw the line when it's too much?
A few small bites suffice
Filtering the mass of data we receive on current affairs can be overwhelming for adults, and even more so when deciding which bits to share with our youngsters.
For young children, learning to explore an issue and topics of interest are more important than ensuring broad coverage. Having an ongoing dialogue on just one or two news items at a time is enough to start opening a little one's eyes to the wider world.
When picking topics, it's easiest to follow something of interest to the child or the family. Has your child asked, "What's that for?" when passing a disaster relief appeal poster on a train platform? Are you particularly passionate about a diplomatic matter that could impact your family, such as immigration? These are good places to start because there will be links to your child's life.
Relate to the children involved
In a way, elucidating current affairs is like tackling a plate of spaghetti - a real mess unless you know where to start. You have to teach a child to use their tiny hands to twirl just a noodle or two at a time on their fork. The same is true when discussing current affairs. We can pick up a mere strand or two from even the most complicated or distressing topics. But which strands should we pick? Well, it can be helpful to look at the impact of the situation on children.
Previously, when discussing the Syrian refugee crisis with our son we very basically explained that war destroyed many places, such that some families are needing to move to other lands to find new homes. We picked up on the strand about migrants walking through the Balkan countries - because our son can relate to walking - and we spoke about the children's tired feet, hunger and lack of personal belongings. It has become an ongoing lesson for our son in empathy, and an opportunity for him to understand how blessed he is to have a warm, safe home with toys and enough food to eat.
Hold the high ground
In simplifying news stories, it can be tempting to identify the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys', as in a comic strip. It’s important, however, to be careful with using a 'baddie' label for a person or group. While I may feel impassioned about my stance on an issue, I don't want to teach my son that people who hold different views are bad people.
Of course, sometimes it's important to be very clear that someone's actions, such as violent crimes, are flat out wrong behaviour, but I try to be mindful not to label - with derogatory language - an entire religious or ethnic group. Focus on the reasons people hold disparate views, and your child will learn to respect others and get a sense of their own freedom to have an opinion.
Bring it to life... carefully
Finally, talking about current affairs needn't be limited to a one-off conversation. It's helpful to build on the dialogue over time, periodically bringing it to life with globes, maps, magazine photos, videos, and even through participating in charity events. A little word of warning, though, with regard to the videos - I recommend particular vigilance.
Our son became curious about tsunamis and was struggling to understand the scale of a, 'really, really big wave'. We allowed him to see some clips on the internet of a beach being flooded, but the video quickly moved on to some more distressing scenes. It was important that we were with him to hit the stop button, talk to him about what happened, and answer his questions about how we could help. His heartfelt response was, "Can we send them towels?" Was the video too much? Probably a bit, but we learned from the experience - preview, preview, preview - and were glad he had us there to reassure him.
KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid
To sum up, talking about current affairs can offer a precious opportunity to expand your child's world view, give them confidence to form an opinion, and develop regard for what others are experiencing. Keep it simple, relate it to their experience as a child, mind your own language, and be willing to address questions and concerns. With these ideas, I hope you'll feel better equipped and confident to respond well when news reaches your child's line of sight.
Catherine Law, Management Consultant and Executive Coach