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Children's concerns about Terrorism

By Eira Culverwell  Jul 5th, 2017 

It's hard to explain to our kids something we can hardly grasp ourselves. 

With yet another horrific terrorist attack—this time in Manchester—making headlines, not to mention the recent mass shooting at an Orlando LGBT nightclub that left 50 people dead, and many other attacks (the ISIS-led explosions in Brussels, attacks in Paris and Beirut, as well as the massacre in Kenya)—no doubt your children might be asking,

 "Why do people want to hurt us?" How to answer this heartbreaking question is something no parent is naturally prepared to do.

We're all looking for ways to explain something that's impossible to explain—because we don't understand it.  Talking about terrorism is different from other scary news,  because we're accustomed to natural disasters, but we're unprepared for random and atrocious displays of violence.

Due to the world we live in and the nonstop news cycle, parents must develop the tools to discuss the topic with their children. These tips may be of some help:

Find out what they know.

We'd all like our children to remain blissfully unaware of terrorism, but don't expect that you can shield them from it. "Kids are very intuitive and perceptive," says child development and parenting expert Denise Daniels, who has helped children around the globe cope with losses as a result of tragedies such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. 

If they don't hear it on television, other kids are going to be talking about it. They can see that their parents maybe are more concerned than usual, paying more attention to the TV. They may overhear adult conversations. Even if they don't know what it is, they still know something's happening. Having information can actually help take away the confusion, and help kids feel better."

Let the information they have launch the conversation, and then let kids steer the discussion with their questions and concerns. Say, 'You may have heard something really sad happened, and I wanted to know what you had heard about that,". If you're not sure they've heard anything—and don't want to open a can of worms—just ask about their day, or if they heard anything interesting, and see if they bring it up.

Keep it simple.

Limit TV so you know your children are only getting age-appropriate information. Research has shown  that violence can have lasting effects on children even if they are only learning about it through the media. We urge everyone to take care with the images that children see and hear about.

Answer any questions your kids have in language they can understand. "A 6-year-old would say, 'Something bad happened,' and there are 'bad guys,' because developmentally, a child that age would be thinking bad guys, good guys, and there's nothing in between."

You can say, 'Yes, there were some bad people, and they hurt some people because they were very angry, and we know'—and this is the teachable moment—'that it's never okay to hurt ourselves or to hurt somebody else because we're feeling angry.' Keep it very simple."

Bring it to their level.

Then, relate what happened to experiences kids can understand. For example: "'You know when you get in a fight with your friend because you want the toy, and she wants the toy at the same time? And only one of you can have it? 

People fight and they get upset when they can't have what they want, or a loved one is hurt, and these are all different reasons why people get in big fights.'"

Avoid getting into conversations about religion, politics, or other subjects, which really aren't relevant unless you're talking to an older child or teen. 

Children are very egocentric, and they want to know that they're okay, and the people around them are going to be okay. Something sad happened. People were hurt and killed, but people are looking after them and we are all very safe. That's the main question you want to be addressing.

Pay attention to the types of questions your child is asking, too. If a child is asking, "Why do people want to hurt us?" or "Why do the terrorists hate us?" the key is to notice that the child is making this personal. 

You should answer, 'They don't hate us, they don't even know us,' Otherwise you have children who have absorbed the idea that they personally are hated by scary, very violent people who might crawl in their window at night.

Encourage them to express how they feel.

Listen to their worries and help them name their feelings. What we're trying to do is help kids cope and understand what's going on, but we're also teaching them coping strategies that can last a lifetime.  

Young children need to have a vocabulary for what they're feeling. How do you express feelings? What do you do when you're angry? What do you do if you're sad? How do you respect people's differences?

Simple age appropriate answers are best and don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’. Agree that is is sad and tragic and not something you are able to fix. It actually helps children to understand these complex issues if they know there isn’t an easy answer.

Over time older children will begin to understand that bad things happen to good people but there is no reason or benefit to them being frightened or overwhelmed with information they can’t process. 

What we don’t want to do is create a modern day boogie man, so don’t frighten them with dark explanations - or in some ways the terrorists have won.

Reassure them.

While you can acknowledge that what happened is scary, you want to reassure your kids with your words and behaviors. First, put it in perspective.

Next, emphasise that while there are some bad people in the world, there are many more good people. Sometimes kids will ask questions like, 'Am I going to be okay?' or 'Why do these bad guys do such terrible things? Will life ever be the same again? And could this happen here?'

 We don't always have the answers to those questions, and you can say that, but you can also identify all the people who are working very hard to keep our country safe. The men and women in the Armed Forces, the police, the firemen, teachers at school." Make a list with your child of all the good people you know to show her what a great support system she has.

Model good coping skills.

You also want to show them that while terrorist attacks are scary, you are okay. Naturally, parents are going to be rattled and frightened, but our children watch us very, very carefully to determine how they should feel about things; If our tone of voice conveys confidence in the people who are ensuring our safety and in stepping up the efforts to prevent this from happening again, then our children are reassured.

If you're not feeling confident, though, don't fake it. How we manage our own worries is going to be the biggest thing we can do. Consistency is also important, so keep your routines the same and keep life feeling normal. Kids are very rooted in the now. 

Empower them.

Terrorist attacks are scary because they make us feel out of control, so help your children focus on areas where they do have power over their safety.We recommend talking to little kids about strategies they use for keeping themselves safe, like wearing a seatbelt in the car, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, and practicing fire drills. "Simple little things like that all help kids think, 'Well, gosh, there are things I can do to keep me safe.

Perspective Is Key

Above all, make your child feel safe  However horrific the recent events,  ensure your family focuses on what’s good in the world and how these attacks can bring people together, not tear us apart.

For younger children with no sense of geography these attacks are happening in their living room as that’s where they’re seeing it on TV -  They don’t have a real ability to put it into context.

Monitor Media

Be mindful of any disturbing news coverage. Even older children can be disturbed by graphic news content, so make sure their viewing is supervised.

Frame The Information In Positives

You don’t won’t your children to walk away from the conversation feeling scared -try to make your overriding message to your children a positive one. Talk to them about acts of bravery and heroism and overall, encourage them to always be kind to others.

Categories: NewsSafety Tips
Tags: attackseducationpersonalprimarystudents