So much bad news, so what do we tell children?

Knowing how to talk about negative things with kids throws up all kinds of issues. And one of those is remembering when we need to acknowledge our own good fortune.

telling child bad news


Over the last few weeks, it has been impossible to ignore two tragic stories which have featured prominently across the media. The devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria that has claimed so many thousands of innocent lives, and the disappearance and then discovery of the body of Nicola Bulley in a quiet village in Lancashire. Thousands of miles apart, but each one shattering and horrific in its own right.

As I read more and thought more about both of these events, I realised that something inside me had changed in response. A decade or so ago, I probably would have regarded these as terrible occurrences but without the same level of empathy. When Madeline McCann disappeared in Portugal in 2007, more than the grief of two people whose daughter had vanished into thin air, I was struck by the fact that it had happened in a resort I had visited a couple of times with my parents when I was younger.

Now as a parent myself, my first reaction is how would I feel if this had happened to me. With the case of Nicola Bulley in Lancashire, I thought of her partner and their two children. How would I cope if my wife disappeared? You would want to do everything in your power possible to find her, but not forgetting at the same time that you have two people for whom you are entirely responsible.

What is your priority? There is no right answer and whichever path you choose would feel like the wrong option. What on earth do you say to your children? How do you find the strength to provide hope and comfort to them while feeling like your own world is crumbling inside? And all this at the same time as your lives are being played out on a daily basis by the mass media. These are questions that are simply impossible to answer and you would not wish upon anybody to have to do so.

The images of destruction after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria tell a thousand words. More than 50,000 lives lost. One-and-a-half million people left homeless. A reconstruction programme that will take a generation. We all saw the pictures of the newborn baby pulled out of the rubble in Syria, little more than hours old. Yet while the infant girl was rushed to hospital for treatment, it is believed that neither of her parents nor her four siblings survived the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. A newborn baby, that most precious of things, orphaned almost instantly. No family left. Deprived of the things a young child needs more than anything, the love of mother, father, brothers and sisters.

I remember my father, now 87, telling me about growing up in wartime in inner city Manchester. One morning after returning home from an air-raid shelter, he discovered that the row of terraced houses across the street had been flattened by German bombs. That life is almost unimaginable for us in the United Kingdom of 2023. But with events in Turkey and Syria, I don’t necessarily think of the deceased but of those left behind and made homeless. I think of my own children and imagine if our lives had been devastated in such a way, with virtually every single possession of ours destroyed and scrambling round for clothes, food and shelter – the everyday things that we take for granted.

In our modern society, it is very easy to moan about lots of things created by our hectic lifestyles. Sometimes as parents, we need a jolt of reality to remind us how bloody lucky we are. And thinking about the partner of Nicola Bulley and thousands of parents facing an uncertain post-earthquake future in Turkey and Syria, we should definitely have received that reminder in the starkest manner.

Read more:

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