With the spate of recent disturbing news here is what can parents do to help their children. This is an article, the first of a series, for the local Powai Community Newspaper circulated every Sunday. 

The last few months have exposed children to not just the pandemic and the lockdown but a host of other troubling news – from a widely broadcast death by suicide, to a cyclone, to threats at the border. Young minds are like clay, and exposure to stressful events can help them get resilient or traumatise them, depending on how parents shape their perceptions.

The American Psychological Association says there are 3 effects of watching disturbing news 1) Children may become less sensitive to the others’ suffering, 2) Children may be more fearful of the world 3) Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive/hurtful ways toward others.

Here are some simple things parents can do to prevent the adverse impact of disturbing world events.

Monitor access to news: Avoid giving children unlimited access to phones especially when one cannot control the material that is sent. Keep a password on your devices and allow children access under supervision. Set limits with friends/groups to stop posting disturbing images. Block those who frequently violate these norms.

If possible, watch the television news along with children so you can debrief and normalise any disturbing material.

Watch your body language: Children imbibe parents’ anxiety so make sure that little eyes do not see you get over-emotional about a news event. On the other hand, don’t try to cover up your feelings with false cheer or diverting the topic. That can be equally confusing to the child. Keep facial expressions and body language as real as possible when faced with disturbing newscasts.

Teach self-soothing: Explain to kids that you are upset but trying to deal with it by doing things to calm yourself down. “I was feeling upset with that (picture) but went for a walk and it helped” Modelling self-soothing as a natural way to help oneself calm down can be an important lesson to teach kids.

Messages of normalcy: Describe the world to your child as a generally safe place, with some unsafe events. Don’t give kids the idea that they SHOULD NOT explore the world or stay away from minor risks.

Help expression: Young ones can tell you what they feel through simple stick figure drawings! Older kids need space and time to express. Adolescents can write articles/blog about current affairs as an outlet for their emotions.