In times of tumultuous politics, many parents question whether they should discuss world events with their young family members, or if it’s best to just leave children out of it all together.
In previous generations, kids might have been excluded from ‘grown-up’ conversations, but with the growth of social media the NSPCC warns children are being more regularly exposed to the news and are drawing their own conclusions about the American election.
“Parents are likely to be on the receiving end of many questions from children today about world events,” John Cameron, Head of NSPCC Helplines, explained to The Huffington Post UK.
“Children today are more exposed to world events than ever and despite the urge to protect our children from what’s happening, this can mean their worries build up.”
In October, the NSPCC released a study that revealed there has been a 35% rise in children who have had counselling for anxiety in 2016, compared to last year.
Although some of this was attributed to personal and family issues, concerns about world affairs such as the EU referendum, the US election and troubles in the Middle East were also frequently mentioned.
So should parents be doing more to discuss politics with their children? We put the question to child psychologists and health professionals.
Should parents talk to their children about politics?
“Yes, parents should talk about politics, but in an age appropriate way,” Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children, told HuffPost UK.
“It’s important to raise children to be active citizens and including them in discussions around the political process is a good way to start.
“Honesty is always the best policy, but it’s important to acknowledge what is your own opinion and that there are other people who have different opinions.”
How should I talk to my child about these events?
“Young children relate better to things that are relevant to them,” explained Gummer. “So use examples such as the class rep system or parish council dealing with an issue in their own area.
“Explain that in most countries people are elected and that the best way to change things is to get involved.
“Try holding a family meeting to discuss issues (e.g. Christmas plans, holidays, pocket money) and let each person have their say and then vote on it. This will help children understand the process and worry less.”
Dr. Helen Webberley, GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, added: “The answers we give are key to our children’s understanding: listen to your child and hear their concerns.
“Saying ‘don’t worry’ doesn’t help, because they are worried. Try to unpick their fears, break them down and offer clarity and reassurance where possible. Put things into perspective, we can’t say that there will never be another war, but we can say how unlikely it is.”
When should I talk to my child about these events?
Cameron from the NSPCC said: “How you start the conversation is going to depend on a lot of things, including how old and mature your child is and what you want to talk about.
“You could wait until they ask you a question, or check what they think about what’s going on; if you notice they’re watching the news for example.”
How much detail should I go into?
Gummer advises: “It’s always a good idea to let children lead. If they ask questions they deserve answers and you’ll gauge when they’ve had enough – they’ll change topic and ask what’s for tea instead – that’s you’re cue that they have sufficient information for the time being.
“It’s a good idea to check in with them the following day. For example: ‘You know yesterday when we were talking, do you have any more questions or thoughts on it?’”
At what age should I talk to my child about politics?
“There’s no real lower age limit, but don’t overload young children with geopolitical information that they won’t understand,” advised Gummer.
“Children’s moral and cognitive development tends to be very black and white, so complex issues where there isn’t an absolute right or wrong approach can be difficult and confusing for young children.”
Should we keep our adult conversations about the same topic in private?
“Yes – passionate views can confuse and upset a child if they don’t understand why mummy or daddy is upset or angry,” said Gummer.
“Conversations that happen in front of a child, that don’t involve the child can be scary, so try and hold the conversation in a way that the child could join in with if they wanted to, otherwise leave the more complex or disturbing topics for when the children are out of earshot.”
I’m worried my child is suffering with anxiety, should I shield them from these events?
If you believe your child is suffering with anxiety related to these events, then Dr. Webberley advises seeking professional help.
“Ask your doctor about support groups, counselling, hypnotherapy and other treatments that can help when things get out of hand,” she said.
“Never lie to your children, even about the smallest things, or it will create mistrust when it comes to addressing the bigger things in life.”