Talking with Young Children about Current Events

We have just experienced an election season filled with emotion. Many parents are asking about ways they can help their preschooler understand the messages they may be hearing, and how families can focus on the points around this election that are important to them.

The PBSParents web site offers communication strategies for talking about news and current events in general. The recommendations that have been paraphrased below can be applied to the news we have been hearing and will continue to hear over the next months around the election, as well as other news events as they arise.  Use these tips to keep communication about the news developmentally appropriate for what your child needs:

Communication Strategies for Preschoolers:

It’s not necessary to discuss events on the news, unless you know your preschooler has been exposed to them. If you’re aware of this or observe changes in her behavior, you probably should discuss the news event in age-appropriate ways. Changes to look for might include increased interest in war-related play — pretending blocks are missiles, for instance — or behavior that is out of character with your child, such as increased difficulty with separation or trouble going to sleep.

However, it is useful to discuss news that is connected to your preschooler’s life. “The news is a way of learning about the world, so early discussion about your young child’s experiences in the world sets the stage for more in-depth discussions as your child gets older,” says Diane Levin, Ph.D. “These discussions can come out of day-to-day activities you do together. “Talk about the weather outside and then watch the weather report or listen to it, talk about an election when you take your child to the polls, and talk about recycling as you put the cans out together.”

If your child has a question, ask what she knows in an open-ended way. You might ask, “What do you know about that?” and then answer your child’s question in an age-appropriate way. “Finding out what your child understands about what she has seen or heard will help guide your response. It’s not just the fears you want to deal with, you may want to clear up confusions and misconceptions that may be scaring your children. You don’t need to over-explain in ways that are not age-appropriate but you do want to clear up the confusion,” advises Diane Levin, Ph.D.

Explain that you are safe. When children hear or see a scary event on the news, they often relate it to themselves and may feel directly threatened. Reassuring your child that he is safe and that this news is not happening here should help him feel secure. Reviewing and maintaining routines can be comforting as well. For example, you might explain what time you will be home, who will pick your child up from school and what your plans are for the weekend.

Provide art materials, blocks, dolls, and stuffed animals. Playing with these objects will help your child explore what she feels. In a response to a specific news story, offer related props for the play. (Provide toy cars if your child talks about the police cars on the news or in the neighborhood, for example.)

Snuggle and cuddle. As you would with an even younger child, offer lots of cuddling and hugs, and be patient and sensitive to changes in patterns of eating, sleeping and toileting.

Listen carefully. Find out what your child has to say about the news. There is no “right way” of thinking about a topic and your young child will interpret it differently than you. So listen to what he says and base what you say on his interpretation, not your own.


Parent Advisory Council Book Drive a Huge Success!

The Parent Advisory Council of the Hopkins Early Childhood Programs offers a huge thank you to the families who participated in our Book Drive to benefit ResourceWest. The families in our preschool and Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) programs shared new and gently used books, and the members of our Parent Advisory Council were also able to secure donations from our local business community.

We will be presenting the donated books to ResourceWest this week; families who participate in the toy drive through this Hopkins organization will have the option to choose a book to take home as well.

Our Parent Advisory Council is a dynamic and energetic group of parents who are interested in promoting and supporting the good work of our Early Childhood Programs. It has been such a pleasure working with them this school year! If you are interested in joining our council and being part of the fun, we will be holding our next meeting in January. Please contact Sara Chovan through email:



Benefits of Siblings

So many times when we think about siblings the immediate reaction is to think about conflict, rivalry, tension or the like, but what about the benefits?

Think back to your own childhood, what are some of the memories that stick out to you relating to your siblings?  If you didn’t have siblings, what did you think of your friend’s relationships with their brothers/sisters?

What are some favorite memories?

  • Not so favorite?
  •  How do the relationships look now?
  •  What were your parent’s roles in determining it?
  •  How do you think life would be different without this/these relationships?

Now think to your own children.

  •  What is your vision for them?
  •  How would you like their relationship to grow?
  •  What is your role in this?
  •  How much do you think your perspective plays into this?

Siblings (and, at times cousins and close family friends) are some of the most influential people in our lives.  Given typical circumstances, a sibling relationship is likely to be the longest intimate relationship you’ll ever have.  They outlast parental relationships and start earlier than romantic relationships, leaving them to be one of the most influential in our lives.  Unfortunately this does not automatically make them easy to navigate.

In early childhood our siblings are a guiding force in our social-emotional development.  Regardless of where you fall in birth order, having a sibling is going to impact you and your view on the world.  A younger sibling will often look to their older counterpart for cues on how to behave in certain situations; an older sibling may use interactions with a younger sibling to flex his or her budding authority and negotiation skills. While each has its own inherit benefits to growing both the sibling relationship and the development of the individual children, it can drive parents crazy!

 So what do we do in these situations?

Try to focus on the positives.

Siblings provide a safe place to learn how to properly interact with peers.  The actions and words that you will see and hear between siblings are rarely used in a real life setting.  Take heart that your children are learning social norms in a situation where they are secure in the fact that they are loved and accepted, even when the bickering gets intense!

Siblings provide built in entertainment, though unfortunately for parents, the entertainment is not always the peaceful playing that we may have envisioned. While developing, children go through different periods of craving power and control to help them feel that they have some say over their lives.  Sibling relationships provide an excellent outlet for this—what better way to declare your power than to take a toy from someone younger or demand the exact way that a game should be played? What better source of entertainment than to have your younger sibling do exactly as you say?  While these types of behaviors often get under our skin as parents, they provide children with valuable learning situations, outlets to release feelings and to practice skills and tend to blow over quickly if they do end in conflict.

Siblings often will be extremely protective of each other…against outside forces.  The bond between siblings is such that there seems to be quite a bit of leeway for acceptable behaviors between each other, but very stringent guidelines for the outside world.  In other words there’s an unspoken philosophy of I can do/say what I want to my sibling, but you better watch yourself!  This is an element that parents often look over when thinking of the sibling relationships, especially in times of conflict.  It can be very helpful to step back and look at the way your pair (or group!) interacts with the world around them.  Look for how they protect and boost each other in numerous different ways, this is when you’ll see the bond that you hoped for.

And finally, siblings hold a lot of power with each other—embrace it and use it to your advantage!  While the style of communication/interaction may not be the same as what you’d choose, step back and watch how siblings handle each other in different situations.  Preschoolers can often soothe a baby faster and more efficiently than a parent, school aged children can tame the wild meltdown of a preschool sibling with an ease that parents will envy.  Remember that siblings are using each other to learn how to navigate the world around them and they are equally invested in helping each other survive us, their parents!  Siblings also have the ability to look at things from a much different perspective than adults because of they’re generally closer in age and more attuned to the wants and needs of a child. Next time you are struggling with one or more kiddos, ask their sibling what they think would help—you may be very surprised!

Raising any amount of children is an exceptionally challenging task.  Siblings can sometimes make the challenge seem insurmountable.  Hopefully by using some of the above methods to find the good in the fighting, the day to day will become more enjoyable.