How do I talk to my child about wars, attacks and catastrophes?
Children and young people find it particularly difficult to process information about negative and traumatic events. Especially in crisis situations, children and young people are increasingly confronted with disturbing images, sensational headlines and harmful content on Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok and other social media platforms. Even if they don't always understand the context, such content can be quite distressing. Support your child in coping with concerning situations and discuss the right way to deal with online information together.
- Talk to your child objectively. First, acknowledge your own feelings and fears, and the need to not get carried away by your own emotions. Refrain from speculation and speak soberly about the topic.
- Take your child's concerns seriously. Children do not always understand what exactly is happening, but they do feel the tragic aspects of negative events. Reports, pictures and videos about wars can trigger feelings in them and make them worried. Don't try to soothe them, it's better to ask how your child is doing in the upsetting situation. Ask open-ended questions: How do you feel about it? What are you reading about it on Instagram? Do you discuss the topic at school/with friends? Do you want to know something about this?
- Explain the situation in an age-appropriate manner. Explaining a war, a terrorist attack or a health crisis in a child-friendly way is not easy. Things that can help include: research possible explanations in advance and think about how you can convey the content to the young person. Listen carefully to your child and find out what aspects they might find interesting or worrying. Picture books, stories, or role-playing games can be helpful, especially with younger children.
- Child-friendly news sources. We recommend the following resources which report news in a child-friendly way:
- The Zeit im Bild (Time in the picture) TikTok channel;
- Zib Zack Mini by Austrian television company ORF, the news programme targeted at 6-10-year-olds;
- logo!, the news page dedicated to children by the German television company ZDF;
- Funk, the content network of the German television channels ARD and ZDF, also offers content for young people between 14 and 29 years of age.
Discuss sources of information and practice news source criticism
Children and young people learn differently than adults. Young people get most of their information and news in the digital world, and above all on social networks such as Instagram , YouTube or via content shared in various WhatsApp groups. Remind them that this information is not always correct, and especially in emergency situations, the overflow of false information can be huge! Talk to your child about the right way to deal with online content.
Read a checklist for evaluating online news sources developed by the Austrian Safer Internet Centre and how you can practice being critical about news sources with your child.
Test your information literacy skills with the following quizzes: How good are you with spotting fake news, manipulated online images and hate speech? and Do you recognise fake images and fake news?
Tips for dealing with online content
- Remember that not everything shared on social networks is true.
- Beware of sensational headlines and emotional, not factual, reporting.
- Do not trust any anonymous sources of information and compare news reports.
- Check news sources carefully: who published it? Is there any legal information about the source? Does the information come from a reputable newspaper/organisation?
- Report false statements.
- Do not share or forward anything without carefully reviewing it first.
Check out the Austrian Safer Internet Centre privacy guidelines on how to report posts on each social network.
How to get help
If you or your child are based in Austria and would like to talk or get support, contact the helpline Rat auf Draht (Advice on wire) anonymously and free of charge by dialling the number 147, or on the parents' support website www.elternseite.at and on www.rataufdraht.at.
While the resources references in this guide originate from Austria, similar sources exist in your own country language. If you’re not based in Austria, your national helpline can provide guidance and support. To discover what services are available in your country, refer to your national Safer Internet Centre.
Find out more about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.