Sunday, November 22, 2015
Talking with children about the news
Son #2 has become fascinated by skyscrapers, especially the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building and definitely a tremendous piece of engineering. His fascination extends beyond this building, and includes skyscrapers in New York. His mum and I were lucky enough to visit the city some years ago, and came back with a lovely illustrated book about the city's skyscrapers. He can also tell you, if you want to know, some of the world's previous tallest buildings, which include several in New York, of course, and also the Eiffel Tower, which has also been met at school as part of a project about "Fantastic France".
The news? Recent news. Our son's class spent some time at circle time earlier this week remembering the recent terrible events in Paris, after a classmate had mentioned seeing about it.
The Guardian reported what the French education ministry had done to help teachers.
And older news. From 1970 to 1973, the tallest building in the world was the original World Trade Center in New York. It appears in books we had read, but so does the new one (as a design), and so I had said that the original one was no longer there, that it had been replaced by new buildings, including the "Freedom Tower", which we had read about.
And that was going to be that, until he was older.
And then, there we were, watching a documentary about building an enormous artificial island in Dubai. The island was designed to increase tourist visits to Dubai, to start to develop alternative sources of income to replace, in due course, oil. Work started in August 2001, and was affected by the global downturn in tourism that followed 9/11. And the programme showed, briefly, what happened to the World Trade Center. I am glad I was watching it with him. So, we had to talk about what had happened.
I don't think the answer he needs now to the question of "why" is the one that he will need when he is older. For now, I hope it was ok to tell him that it was not an accident, and that people did die (he asked both those things, and he had seen a photo of a plane that crashed some years back into the Empire State Building).
So, how do you talk to children about the news? I am not thinking here about breaking bad news to them about their health or the health of family members. That should be the subject of a separate post. But, how you talk to them about difficult stories in the news. You can, as I tried to, not tell them, but they will find out about the news story sooner or later and they will want to know.
Here are a few things that look useful.
BBC's Newsround has advice for children/young people on what to do if you are upset by the news.
Common Sense Media
HealthyChildren.org - an American Academy of Pediatrics site.
A lot of British advice that I found was about dealing with bereavement, abuse or illness, but Cranmer Primary School in Mitcham, Surrey, has taken some American advice and amended it for a British context.
A interesting newspaper item is this one from the New York Times, reporting French sources and media.