This is the question Danielle Smith asked on Strollerderby (babbleblogs). And I found myself pondering exactly this same question – “Is it appropriate?”- during the news coverage of the recent horrific events in Norway (the bomb attack in Oslo and shooting spree on Utoeya island claiming 76 innocent lives on 22nd July) :
The family was out and I was watching the breaking news coverage of the death of Amy Winehouse, when the Littlins (2.5 year old & 4 year old) came back from walking the dog with their Daddy. The news switched over to events in Norway and it was the 1st time I’d actually watched the reports on the news (I had thus far followed it in the written press), so I left the television on.
As we watched, my 4 year old Little Miss, who was busy colouring, started asking questions and it actually struck me how much she is taking in even if she is seemingly preoccupied with other things!
The questions were hard to answer- Why did they run into the water? Why did they die? (She is also just coming to terms with the fact that people, including her family members and her will die at some point… that’s another tough discussion we’ve had not long ago.) Why did the man have a gun? Did he know these people?
Now, I believe that we should be as open with our children as possible, but try to put the answers in an age appropriate way, while protecting them from the gruesome details. Our answers, with my Other Half, were along the lines of- this is a very bad man, who does not know what is good and what is bad. He did a very bad thing. He killed good people and no, these people will not wake up any more, they have gone to be with the angels. These people tried to get away but the water was very cold. It is very sad and it is okay to cry. The people who were able to hide from this bad man are safe.
This last bit is the lesson…”if you were in their shoes what would you do” sort of question. You may think this is too young for a 4 year old, but I feel it gives her a chance to talk about it, talk about her fears and what she can do. She is quite young so doesn’t necessarily make all the connections of how something like this might relate to her own life, her own situations as perhaps older children might. (e.g. if she was going camping, would a lone gunman possibly appear?) She will probably come up with a question about this or similar incident days, weeks or months later.
She has so much trust, I fear for her, yet don’t want to break that kind, giving warm spirit. I do find it important to show her, in a protective way, that the world is not only good. I want her to be able to recognise situations that are not good and instead of panicking, act with the utmost confidence that she normally has, just aimed at self-preservation.
Whether a discussion like this should be initiated through watching the news with young children is up for debate. Especially as the news is often so over-sensationalised and shows too much detail for young children. However, if you can find decent coverage of events, then I think that is worthwhile using it as a prompt for discussion and alleviating children’s fears. They will pick up snippets from newspapers, radio even if we don’t intend them to, so why not talk about it openly?