Coverage of coronavirus on news media and social media has been relentless, and many children and their families are feeling anxious, confused or upset. But there are positive steps families can take to manage their media use during stressful times.
1. Help children calm down
Reassure children that they have caring adults around them who are taking smart steps to help keep them safe. (For advice on staying safe, see the World Health Organization and the Australian Government Department of Health.) Wherever possible, keep a regular routine of meals, activities, chores and physical exercise.
Here’s a great, quick exercise that adults can do with children to ground ourselves and feel calmer; it’s called ‘54321’:
- Take some deep, slow breaths.
- Wriggle your toes and feel the floor or ground under your feet.
- Say out loud five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Meditation can help families to reduce stress and encourage kindness and calm. Common Sense Media has a list of fun, kid-friendly meditation apps for children.
2. Keep media consumption to sensible levels
While parents want to stay alert to important developments, it’s not helpful to watch the same stressful items over and over.
Many people find it useful to have a routine of checking the headlines of a trusted news source a couple of times a day, while staying away from 24/7 rolling news and social media ‘churn’.
3. Talk with children about what they’ve seen and how it made them feel
Calmly ask children what they’ve seen in the media. They may have seen ‘news’ items that were untrue, or they may believe the problem is more dangerous or prevalent than it actually is.
Be clear with children about what really happened, keeping your language age-appropriate. For example, ‘The government wants to keep everyone safe, so now when people visit Australia, they have to stay inside for two weeks to make sure they are healthy.’
Ask children how the media items made them feel. Remind them that it’s OK to feel worried or scared, but that they should talk to a trusted adult about it and remember that upset feelings don’t last; they will always feel better again. Pick out some fun, relaxing activities you can do together.
Show them how you’re dealing with your own feelings. For example, “I was disappointed to hear on the news that we can’t go to the football this week, but I know this rule is to help us stay healthy. I’m going to enjoy watching the footy on TV with you.”
4. Encourage children to think critically about media
If children are interested in an issue, steer them towards trustworthy sources. For coverage of COVID-19 created for kids, check out Behind the News – it is clear and interesting, and emphasises optimism and the positive steps people are taking to make things better.
You might remind teens and older children that:
- Media sources want lots of people to look at them, so sometimes they concentrate on the worst stories, or play the same story again and again.
- Breaking news isn’t always accurate, because everyone is trying to get their coverage out in a hurry, while things are still unfolding.
- Social media will show you content based on things you’ve looked at before. This doesn’t give you the full picture, and some of it won’t be true.
- People leap on social media to give their opinions, but sometimes they don’t know the full story and they can make each other feel worse.
Conversation-starters might include:
- “That post on your feed doesn’t look accurate to me. Shall we check the World Health Organization to find out if it’s true?”
- “That footage of sick people is very sad, but I don’t think it happened anywhere near us. Let’s find the location on a map of the world.”
- “Lots of news stories use that video of women fighting over toilet paper. Why do you think they show the same footage over and over?”
5. Find entertainment media to enjoy together
Families can find fun things to do together if they are stuck indoors or unable to go to sporting matches or concerts.
Common Sense Media provides some great lists to get you started, including:
- TV shows that encourage kindness, self-control, and empathy
- Movies that promote perseverance, courage, and compassion
- Books that inspire gratitude
- Games that encourage kindness.