Talking with Children About the World
Photo by Jason McGregor
Children are naturally curious and interested in the world around them. They grow and learn through exploration, through their senses and through observations of people and things. They view the world from their own perspective. But, with a world situation that’s often in turmoil and vivid images displayed on TV screens, adults may feel perplexed about answering children’s difficult questions.
Children are not usually afraid of information. What is scary for them is knowing something is happening but not knowing what it is. Children want to know what is happening and they want to be reassured that they are loved and safe. They want the adults in their lives to take care of them. If there is lack of information, children will fill in the gaps with their own ideas and misinformation.
Not talking is not an option because most children can “read between the lines.” Almost from birth they are able to intuit, “feel” what adults are feeling and sense when there is a problem, when something is being hidden or when there is a crisis. They usually can sense when grown ups experience fear or sadness.
Anticipate issues before they become problems. For instance, reading a story to a preschooler about a child who is frightened about going to kindergarten is developmentally appropriate. When you share the story together it can help in allay some of the child’s fears. This is useful for children going through the normal stages of growing up. Exploration into issues should be relevant to their age or experiences. Common issues include: nightmares, separation, birth of a sibling or even traumatic situations like death, disasters or homelessness.
Give children information, simply and honestly at their level. If you feel uncomfortable answering a question, pause and take a breath. You don’t have to have all the answers right away. You can explore and learn together. Children need to know that you will listen to them, take them seriously and answer their questions.
• Reassure children and stress that you are here to take care of them.
• Give real answers to their real questions.
• Create an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Children can sense dishonesty and discomfort in adults.
• Teach children to identify and verbalize their feelings, as well as to read the emotional signals from other children and adults.
• Listen carefully to children’s comments & questions.
• Speak in a calm voice.
• Be prepared to answer questions or talk about the same topic over and over again. Children usually need to hear information many times to make it part of their understanding.
• Remember that information is not harmful, but the lack of information can be disastrous.
What Every Child’s Life Should Include – all of the following everyday activites can help children process and react to issues which are troubling them.
Books: Have books on hand about many different topics. Reading is a conversation starter and offers the child a safe place to talk about feelings.
Play: When children play, they are learning. Play helps children develop social and physical skills and they practice language. They learn to master real life situations and prepare for adult life and roles.
Free Play: Allow plenty of time for free play with other children without an organized plan. All of us need a time to relax without “rules” and expectations.
Outdoor Play: “Rough and tumble” outdoor activities help children learn how to lead and follow, develop physical skills, interact with others, and understand the process of give and take. These activities allow children to let off steam when they are anxious.
The Arts: Create a play environment with a variety of inexpensive materials like crayons, paints, clay and markers as well as items from around the house and from nature. Children frequently express emotions through their art work.
Dramatic Play: Fantasy gives children a change to express themselves and assume roles by acting out everyday events.
Music, Movement and Dance: Clapping, walking, hopping, dancing and singing develop language, literacy and social engagement. Physical exercise and movement help children develop good sense of self and provide a constructive way to release energy and intense emotions.
It is important to give children many different outlets to express their concerns and all the information they need to allay their fears. In a troubling time, comforting a child can help us reassure ourselves.