Parents are unsure how to deal with harrowing news stories that are reported daily
The evidence given so far at the Ana Kriégel trial has shocked everyone – by the horror of what is described, by her age, and by the ages of the accused.
Whatever the outcome of the trial may be, in the meantime, when we hear shocking allegations, the temptation is to protect: to protect our children, to protect ourselves and to protect our communities.
But we now know that facing the tough issues is the best way to protect people. We have learned this the hard way from our experience of dealing with issues such as child abuse and single motherhood.
Parents are wondering how to deal with the news stories that are being reported daily, or with the social media that is ongoing, and they are wondering at what age is it appropriate to talk about such harrowing things?
There is no strict answer but we know that two things are important.
The first is that if a child asks a question, at whatever age they are, it requires an answer that is both truthful and appropriate.
The second is that children also protect their parents by not asking questions and, in this situation, parents need to talk about the case (to each other, eg at dinner) so that their children know it is okay to bring up this topic.
Parents do not need to act as if they have all the answers – all children are aware that their parents become upset and that they struggle with life events. However, parents do need to be grounded and calm, as their children will then be able to express the whole range of their emotions and fears. The way to achieve this calmness is not to fake it, but to find a place and person to talk over all your own shock and concerns so that you are fully aware of the state you are in before opening up the topic with children.
What protects children is their ability to speak up about their experiences and to ask for help when they need it. If this is to happen (for example when they read about harrowing stories online), they need adults in their lives they can trust and they need those adults not to over-react with restrictions, but rather have an on-going conversation where all responses are considered.
Some children need only one sentence in response to a question and others will have numerous questions. It is okay to ask, “is that enough for now”? Or, “let’s talk about this again in a few days”.
Each child will have different needs and there is no “one size fits all”.
However, the overall message has to be to tackle your own fears and anxieties first, then be open and alert to your child’s questions and finally do not be afraid to talk about the case, or any case, so your child knows they don’t have to protect you from their concerns.