Children's Hospital Colorado

Coping with Current Events: How to Talk to Kids About Upsetting News

Cartoon image of a parent watching the news

After disturbing incidents like shootings, terrorist attacks, riots and natural disasters, feelings of panic and fear increase. Extensive news coverage and posts on social media can heighten those feelings, especially in kids and teens. As adults grapple with how to move forward in the aftermath these events, it's important to help kids and teens process them, too.

“It’s normal for us as parents to want to shield our children from the anxiety that these types of events can cause,” says pediatric psychologist Jenna Glover, PhD. “But even from a young age, our kids are already aware that things are happening, so it’s helpful to talk with them directly about what’s going on.”

General guidelines to help your child cope

When something unsettling is in the news, kids seek security. In general, parents should consider the following:

  • Increase how and when you’re available to your child, both physically and emotionally. Being accessible can create a safe space for your child to express their emotions.
  • Decrease or set limits on access to media. Young children have trouble processing what they see on the news. And teens, like adults, may at times feel overwhelmed with coverage they see on TV and social media.
  • Display and promote stability. If you’re anxious, your child is likely to be more anxious, too. Talking about the event calmly and keeping your child’s routine as normal as possible helps them feel safe.
  • Be open to your child’s fears. Younger children may use play to communicate and process their fears. Older kids may simply need to talk about their fears, and you should give them plenty of space to do so.
  • Avoid minimizing or jumping to problem solving. Instead, validate your child’s feelings by acknowledging that it’s OK for them to feel whatever they are feeling.
  • Be prepared for questions. It’s OK to not have all the answers but do your best to explain the event in terms your child can understand and assure them that they are safe.

Tips by age group

Conversations about what’s in the news will likely be different depending on a child’s age. It is important to have the conversations, though, and to be honest, says Dr. Glover, even with preschool and elementary school children. Here’s how to approach the topic depending on your child’s age.

Kids 10 and younger

Preteens and teens

Considerations for kids and teens of all ages

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how to support your child and family through a distressing event in the media. We’ve provided additional considerations for when current events are multi-layered, nuanced, politically charged or violent.

General questions from parents

Addressing specific events

Talking about mental health

Remember, the most important advice for parenting during times of distress is to give your child time and space to process what’s happened. The coping skills they learn now will help them the next time an event occurs, and it can help improve their mental health in the long run.

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