At a glance
Being exposed to tragic or stressful news can affect kids in many ways.
It’s especially hard for some kids who learn and think differently.
Certain challenges get in the way of processing information and emotions.
The last few years have been full of scary news for kids, from racial injustice to gun violence to the war in Ukraine. Hearing about or seeing the news can be very hard for kids to cope with — especially kids who learn and think differently.
Certain challenges can get in the way of processing information and emotions. Kids who learn and think differently might have trouble with:
- Paying attention
- Remembering information
- Letting go of negative thoughts
- Managing emotions
- Processing information quickly
- Understanding language
- Seeing different solutions to problems
- Coping with fear and anxiety
You may wonder about how all of this distressing news will affect your child’s emotional health, behavior, and learning. Here are some common difficulties — and tips for helping.
Struggling with strong emotions
Kids who struggle with executive function, especially kids with ADHD, struggle to manage emotions. Their feelings are often intense, and they may have trouble letting go of them. They might fixate on tragic events, and talk about them endlessly.
And many kids with learning differences like dyslexia and ADHD also have anxiety. News of violence, especially in schools, can increase any fears that something bad could happen to them, their friends, their families, and their teachers.
Quick tip: Show empathy and acknowledge your child's feelings. But if your child keeps talking about it, point that out.
Not understanding what’s happening
Not fully understanding events can be very stressful. Kids with slow processing speed may not be able to quickly take in and make sense of the events. They may also not be able to keep up with conversation or express their own thoughts in a timely way.
Kids who struggle with language skills may have a hard time understanding the news or what people are saying about it. They may also struggle to ask questions or share their feelings and concerns.
No matter the reason, it can be frustrating and isolating for kids to not be able to understand or keep up with the information they’re getting.
Quick tip: Ask if your child needs you to explain more. And say it’s OK to come back to you with questions later.
Being easily distracted
Exposure to bad news can be very distracting for all kids. It’s especially hard when focus is already a challenge. Kids may get sidetracked by their own thoughts, especially kids with ADHD and executive function challenges.
Trouble focusing can create problems at home and at school. Kids might not follow directions. Or they may zone out when other people are talking. They may have difficulty holding on to information and remembering what they're supposed to do.
Quick tip: Point out when your child isn’t paying attention, but don’t criticize. Ask your child what might help with focus.
You may not be able to prevent the flow of information from having any short-term impact on your child. But there are ways to help keep it to a minimum:
- Answer kids’ questions. Be honest, but don’t share more information than they can handle.
- Help them understand. Kids often need more information or context to make sense of what they’re hearing and seeing.
- Acknowledge fears. Help kids talk about fears, and talk together about what would make things better.
- Give kids a sense of control. Talk about what you’re already doing to stay safe and ways you can help others.
- Stick to routines as much as possible. They give kids a sense of security and normalcy.
- Limit exposure. Do your best to turn off the news and stay off your phone around kids. And be sure to talk about other topics that are less stressful.
Most kids will process the news over time without any lasting impact. But some will need extra help coping with their feelings. Share any concerns you have with your child’s health care provider and teacher. Talk about possible treatment or support that might help.
Some kids need extra support to cope with and process stressful news.
It’s important to answer kids’ questions about shootings and other traumatic events.
Exposure to bad news can be very distracting, especially for kids with focus challenges.
About the author
About the author
Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.
Andrew Kahn, PsyD is a licensed psychologist who has served as an evaluator and consultant in public schools for nearly 20 years. Kahn, who describes himself as neurodivergent, is a subject matter expert at Understood.