The horrific attack in Westminster recently is a shocking reminder to all of us how dangerous the world can be. It’s hard to avoid the blanket global media coverage of the event or the social media saturation – and hard to protect your child from becoming aware and anxious.
As sad as situations like this can be for adults, it can be especially difficult to know that our children are aware of such hateful attacks and it is natural to fear a loss of innocence when such events unfold before their eyes.
Here’s some advice for talking to children about terrorism (taken from Social Work Tutor).
Try to focus on the positives
When wrapping up these difficult conversations where you’ll be talking to children about terrorism, try to focus on the positives you can find. Whether it’s the fact that people all pull together to help overcome such awful attacks, or how many people from all over the world show compassion for their fellow humans, always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. The Social Work Tutor article ends with a good summary of this point: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
Be honest and answer the questions that children pose to you
Children are quick to pick up on lies and can identify when adults are trying to hush them up or change the subject. If your child asks you a question, answer it directly and in a manner that acknowledges their curiosity, as well as praises them for seeking out information.
Reassure your child and let them know that they are safe
Given that terrorist attacks can occur in places that seem so familiar to children- places where Mummy or Daddy work, public transport systems and places of celebration- seeing such attacks unfurl on television can make children feel unsafe in their daily surroundings. Try to frame the perspective of what has happened and then point out how emergency services and Governments work hard to keep us all safe.
Frame your answers to their questions based on the child’s prior knowledge
If your child has come to you having seen information elsewhere, try to respond in a manner that is proportionate to what they already know. When talking to children about terrorism, we may inadvertently cause greater anxiety by over-sharing. This may cause them to feel as if we were intentionally hiding bad things from them and raise natural fears about what other unknown threats might scare them.
Accept their feelings and explain that anxiety and worry are normal emotions
As well as praising children for wanting to find out more about tragic events, we should also let them know that sad feelings about the loss of innocent lives are normal. It is important that children understand worrying about others is a sign of empathy and is a natural human emotion in caring people.
Consider monitoring the media your children are exposed to
Modern technology means that any child with a mobile phone or tablet connected to the internet is exposed to the whole world. Combined with rolling 24/7 news stations, it can be very hard to protect our children from all the evil of the world. However, trying to reduce this exposure is a good way to limit the loss of innocence children will experience should they become over-exposed to tragic events.
Be a positive role model and show them proportional responses
As well as talking to your children about terrorism, you can model positive responses to tragic events by keeping calm and demonstrating realistic responses of your own. Although such events occur far too frequently and naturally shake us up, the chances of being caught up in such an attack are still slim.
Sensitively challenge any discriminatory views your child may have picked up
In a society that feels increasingly divided, children may pick up discriminatory views that are shared in response to acts of terrorism. If your child starts to share oppressive views that they’ve heard, try and challenge these in an age-appropriate manner and explain why it’s wrong to feel that way about other people.