Firstly, I’ve got to say, it saddens me deeply that this is even an issue for me to write about; talking to your children about terrorism. This blog post feels, and is, very unedited. I am struggling for words today, a feeling that will be shared by people across the country, but I needed to write in order to begin processing what happened yesterday evening. Yesterday, 22nd May 2017, a suicide bomber attacked a pop concert in Manchester, killing 22 people (as numbers stand as I write this), many of them children, and injuring lots more. How do we even begin to get our heads around this and explain it to our kids?
Every month there seems to be another terrorist act in the news, committed often in broad daylight, and apparently at random, in cities across the world. Plus, there’s the continuing unrest in the Middle East, which has been going on for so long that it can be easy to forget that it is happening. Or have we all just become a bit numb and anaesthetised to what we see and hear in the news nowadays? Watching the news can be scary and worrying for me as an adult, so heaven knows how it feels to today’s children.
I remember all too well when the 9/11 terror attacks happened. I was fresh out of university, working in an admin role in a small office, and news started to come through from the boss’s wife who was watching TV at home. We were all sent home in a state of shock, and I remember sitting in our little flat watching those images of planes hitting the towers, and being unable to comprehend what was happening. The world suddenly felt like a very different place. Fast forward 15 years, scores of attacks later, hundreds of innocent people killed, cities in mourning across the world, and these attacks are unfortunately so commonplace that, as parents, we need to find a way to explain what is happening in the world to our children.
I’ve read lots of useful advice from psychologists and trauma experts this morning, whilst I was thinking about how to talk to my sons about what had happened. I have summarised much of their advice below, in case it may be useful to you too.
· Don’t shield your children from the news completely – this could make it more distressing for them, as they may know that something has happened, but not know what. Children’s news programmes, such as Newsround, are an ideal opener into a conversation with your children.
· Let your children initiate the conversation – they may have overheard things on the news, or snatches of conversations in the playground, so ask if they’ve heard anything and see how they respond. Make sure they know that they can talk about it again with you – they may not want to talk just yet, but confirm that you are available to talk whenever they are ready.
· Keep your explanation simple and age appropriate – my 4 year old understands that people can be good guys and bad guys, so explaining it in those terms is easy for him to understand.
· Reassurance is key – they are safe, you are safe. Ultimately this is all that many children are concerned about, particularly young children. My partner was working in London when the Westminster Bridge attack happened recently, so when my 9 year old saw the news, his only concern was that Dad was OK. Once I’d reassured him of this, he was immediately calmed, and able to watch the news and discuss it with me in a much less anxious way.
· Encourage your children to express their feelings – my eldest son tends to bottle up his emotions, so gently encouraging him to open up about his worries in a non-pressurised way makes it easier for him to express how he is feeling.
· Model good behaviours for your children – as parents we are obviously shocked when we see news coverage of a terrorist attack, but to show fear and anxiety to your children may induce similar feelings in them. Show them in your words and actions that you and their immediate world is OK and keep routines and life feeling calm and normal.
· Talk about the helpers – point out to your children all the people who are working to keep the country and them safe – the police, firemen, ambulance staff, their teachers at school. This will help children to understand that there are more helpers and good people than bad people in the world.
· Think of ways that your family may be able to help – donations to charities, supporting causes by attending meetings etc. This can help your children to understand that they can make a positive impact on the world after a traumatic event.
To those who have lost loved ones in the Manchester attack, all of our thoughts and hearts are with you. May your loved ones rest in peace x