How to talk about sensitive issues with your child?

Children listen to the radio, watch TV, read articles in newspapers or online. It is not possible, nor advisable, to hide all the bad news from them. We cannot allow our children to grow up in a golden cage. They have a right to information. But how do you deal with painful subjects like terrorist attacks or wars? First, consider the age of the child. It is best to protect small children and  pre-schoolers as much as possible and keep them away from images and information. 

Date 2022-07-08 Author Belgian Safer Internet Centre Section awareness, news Topic media literacy/education, potentially harmful content Audience parents and carers, teachers, educators and professionals
A mother speaking to her daughter on a bed

12 tips​ on how to talk about sensitive issues with your child 

  1. Talk about it. Don’t expect your child to come to you with questions. Sometimes children are concerned but don’t express it. That’s why it is important to bring up the subject spontaneously by using current events. For example, when you look at news for children together, when they see the front page of a newspaper, or when they read or hear news online. You can also ask them spontaneously if they have heard anything.   
  2. Stay calm. It is important to try to keep your own emotions and worries under control, otherwise your child may feel that their parents cannot protect him either. 
  3. Ask concrete questions. Ask if your child has understood what happened and if they have any questions. Ask them how they feel, if they are worried or anxious. Always answer their questions. If your child does not seem to be really concerned about the event, do not insist, but tell them that you are there to answer any questions they may have.  
  4. Be honest. Always answer your child’s questions honestly and do not assume that they are too young to understand. A child who asks a question is usually ready to hear the answer. If you avoid their questions, they will question it and worry more. 
  5. Use simple words. Use child-friendly vocabulary. All answers can be expressed using easy to understand language.  
  6. Take the time to talk about it. Make sure to give yourself enough time to talk. While you are eating or in the car are examples of appropriate moments.  
  7. Be transparent. Don’t withhold information if your child wants answers. Be open about what you don’t know (for example  details of the investigation). Don’t hide your own feelings either. Your child may know that the story affects you too, but don’t overreact. A child’s role is not to comfort or reassure their parents.  
  8. Reassure your child. Be honest but put the facts into context to reassure your child. There are some people who will do anything to spread terror and panic, but most people are not like that. On the contrary, many people are willing to help and support each other in any situation. Refer to a situation in which a stranger has helped them. For example, when they got lost on the beach or fell off their bike. 
  9. Teach your child to trust others. Teach your child to trust adults, but tell them that if they ever feel uncomfortable, they can turn to someone they trust. This way, you will teach your child to ask for help when something goes wrong. Do not demonise strangers, or you will make your child even more anxious.   
  10. Leave the subject open for discussion. Explain to your child that you are there for them and that they can always ask you questions later. 
  11. Do not change your habits abruptly. Raise your children to trust the world and others and don’t transfer your own fears onto your child. Our society has not become more dangerous, but instead dramatic events have always existed. Consequently, do not change your habits all at once, because that might alarm your child. Instead, reassure him or her and ad keep acting as usual. 
  12. Pay attention to every sign. Pay attention not only to their questions and what they say about them, but also to their behaviour. Children sometimes express themselves in a different way: they become suddenly quieter or more troublesome or they suddenly wet the bed again. 

Find out more about the work and initiatives of the Belgian Safer Internet Centre or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe. On the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) platform, additional useful tools for parents, carers and teachers can be found in the resource repository and in the Guide to apps section

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