At the turn of the century, there was the Y2K scare. Last year, Christian radio host Harold Camping issued not one but two dates where a worldwide judgment day or “Rapture” would overtake the planet. Some people snickered, others breathed a (secret) sigh of relief as each of these predictions proved to be unfounded. But we’re not off the hook yet: according to some interpretations of an ancient Mayan calendar, the end of the world is coming again, on Dec. 21, 2012.
NASA scientists have already dismissed this latest prediction, but even so, it’s difficult in this computer-savvy age to hide these types of dire rumors from young children, where iPODs, Twitter, Facebook and online news stories are part of everyday life. “Try as you might, you can’t fully shelter your kids” from these types of stories, says Candi Wingate, president of Nannies4Hire. “All you can do is be available for your kids, be responsive to their thoughts and feelings, provide them information and comfort, and minimize other stressors in their world.”
Keeping that in mind, other parenting experts had the following advice for addressing these types of rumors with children:
Take their fears seriously. To dismiss the kids with a “don’t be silly comment” or tell them simply not to worry is not going to help, says parenting speaker and author Kathy Lynn www.parentingtoday.ca. This sends the message that their fears are meaningless and as a result, kids may be hesitant to discuss them with parents, she says.
Turn off the television: “I believe strongly in keeping the news turned off in one’s home to protect sensitive young kids from all the scariness. It doesn’t help their lives to hear about issues over which they have no control, and it can be very damaging,” says Tina Feigal, M.S., a parenting coach www.parentingmojo.com. As kids get older and can go online, it’s important to be a part of their experience, Feigal says. Parents should inquire gently about what their children are reading or hearing about. “What caught your attention online today?” is a good way to ask, she advises.
Let them do their homework: If kids do discover something on the Internet, “go to the computer with them and help them find some more credible sources. Tell them about previous rumors and how they were just that –rumors,” Lynn says. Doing this type of research teaches children to check sources and think critically about what they hear, advises family physician and parenting speaker Deborah Gilboa, M.D. www.AskDoctorG.com. “The more huge and fantastic a claim, the more we should all do some of our own checking,” she says.
Ease the burden: Whether a fear is real or imagined, involving thunderstorms or end-of-world predictions, Gilboa recommends that parents listen to a child’s fear and then “take it off their plate” to put them back into the mindset of play and carefree behavior. When a child is worried about hurricane season, for example, “the parent can listen to what the child thinks might happen and then say ‘OK. From now on I’ll worry about the hurricane FOR you, so you can go and be a kid. If you’re wondering about it again just check in with me. I’ll let you know what I’ve learned and how things stand.’ This works remarkably well, even for very anxious kids,” Gilboa says.