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How to reassure your learners about scary news stories

In times of crisis, how can you best reassure your students? Here are four helpful tips.

24 Mar 2020

In times of crisis, how can you best reassure your learners? Here are four helpful tips.

Great teachers are understanding and sensitive to learners’ needs. They’re always present to offer encouragement, and are excellent at helping them to navigate difficult topics. 

This is especially true in times of crisis, when children and young people seek support and reassurance. Like adults, children see the news. But they don’t always have the benefit of an adult perspective - and might have a difficult time making sense of what’s going on in the world. Learners also might be feeling an impact at home. Depending on the crisis at hand, their families might be stressed about money or the well-being of a loved one. And, this can make them feel anxious themselves.  

So how can teachers support their learners in time of crisis, and use their time in the classroom - or remotely - to reassure them about world events? Here are some strategies: 

1. Acknowledge the situation 

When you ignore a situation, it sends a message to learners that the topic is off limits. This doesn’t stop them from worrying, but it does dissuade them from sharing their concerns. So it’s important to acknowledge the story that is dominating the news - especially if it is actively affecting your learners’ lives. You can start off the conversation by asking open questions to find out what your learners know about the topic and how they feel about it. But remember, always make sure the conversation helps learners feel supported. 

Unicef shares some important advice about how to talk to children about coronavirus, for example, but it could be modified and applied to other crisis situations, as well. “Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel scared about these things,” it writes. “Demonstrate that you’re listening by giving them your full attention, and make sure they understand that they can talk to you.” 

2. Focus on facts

When talking with your learners about a crisis, it’s important to focus on the facts and maintain a calm, reassuring tone. Explain where you are getting your information; it should always be from a trusted news site or the government. If a difficult question comes up, it’s ok to say that you don’t know the answer. But do make sure you come back to it when you find out. It’s also an excellent idea to point your learners towards age-appropriate sources of information, such as BBC’s Newsround for children. Vox - which aims to ‘explain the news’ - can be a great resource for teenagers. 

3. Create a learning opportunity 

Information is power, and equipping your learners with the tools to ask questions and discuss topics enables them to put news stories in context. This can be as simple as watching a short news clip and analysing it, or having younger children design posters with the new information they’ve learned. 

If you’re talking about the Syrian refugee crisis, for example, you might begin to explore the reasons people are forced to leave their countries. Then, attempt to steer the conversation to how society and individuals can make people feel welcome in their new homes. For younger learners, this might mean simply saying hello or recommending somewhere fun to visit in town. With older learners, have a more complex discussion about refugees and integration. 

If COVID-19  is the topic of conversation, use the chance to explain what a virus is and how people spread viruses. It’s an opportunity to underline the importance of hand washing and talk about other ways to reduce the risk of getting sick. You could also talk about how our bodies and immune systems resist infections. 

If there has been a lot of gun violence in the news, use this opportunity to build a lesson around gun control for your older learners, giving them the chance to share their views, to debate and learn how to build a compelling argument with evidence and statistics. 

All these topics can be difficult to discuss. But, you know your learners best. So, focus on judging what is appropriate and what isn’t based on your learners’ age or maturity level. 

4. Look on the bright side  

Obviously, this depends on the specific news story affecting your learners - and not every story has a bright side. However, sometimes it is possible to find a silver lining. For example, with the coronavirus crisis, there is an opportunity to share stories about emergency service crews or all the people working to keep society safe and protected. You could talk about the lockdown and how it is giving families more time together. 

With older learners, you could discuss the environmental impact of the reduced carbon emissions from the travel ban and business closure, and how society could try to continue to minimise travel once the lockdown ends. And,  younger children will love the footage of herds of deer wandering the streets of Nara in Japan, wild boar out for a stroll in Sardinia, and ducks swimming in Rome’s Trevi Fountain.

How do you approach scary news stories with your students? Have you used any of these strategies, or do you have a different tip to help your learners? 

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