Responding to Bad News


We seem to be regularly exposed to news of tragic events. How do you respond to questions children may have about these events, or to artworks they may create around events like bushfires, bombings or domestic violence?

The EYLF and MTOP emphasise the importance of children’s relationships with parents, educators and their community. Learning Outcome 2 relates to children being connected to their world. Often we view that world as being innocent,  good and happy, but sometimes children, particularly children 4 years of age and older, will be aware of media reports about tragic and frightening events happening here or around the world.  Sometimes they may be exposed to these events themselves.

How much you interact with children about these events will depend on the age of the children and how closely it touches their lives. It makes sense to protect very young children from things that they cannot understand and which could scare them.  However children can make up things that are worse than the actual event if they know something is wrong but don’t know what it is. For these children simple explanations that reassure them they are safe is the best approach. Maintaining normal routines is another way of helping them feel safe. Educators should remember that young children may be affected by how adults in their lives respond to the events rather than by the event itself.

Older children will understand more about the event and if it hasn’t touched their lives they may worry that it could.  Give as much information as they want but avoid unnecessary or frightening detail. Talk through the issues according to their age and understanding, eg “Sad and scary things happen in the world but they are rare and there are lots of people who work to stop them happening”. Talk about the people who are helping. Listen to and validate their feelings. Give them time to talk and lots of opportunities to play, draw and paint. This helps children deal with feelings and get a sense of control.

Have there been times at your service when children have talked about or reacted to tragic events or “bad news?”

Reference: “When there is tragedy” Women’s and Children’s Health Network SA Govt

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