If you have watched the news or been on the internet at all this past weekend then I am sure you have heard or at least have an idea about what happened in Paris. Even children are being exposed more and more to the internet, so even if you try to protect them from what happened, they will find out eventually and it is better if they hear about it from you than the other kids at school, but how do you talk to your children about terrorism?
How can you explain something that you don’t even understand?
This is where we have to start. I feel that this is why many parents avoid talking to their children about acts of terrorism, because they fear the “why” question. They don’t want their child to ask “why did they do this?” If you can’t explain it, don’t try to, just be honest with them and tell them that you just don’t know.
Where do I start?
You have to start by looking at the age of your child, then determining where to go from there.
If your child is under 5 you can avoid the subject completely. There are several reasons why this is the case. First off, chances are they are not going to hear about it in school. If they happen to hear about it, chances are your little one will forget about it because they do not know the extent of what happened, or they will ask you about it. The second reason you can avoid it is at this age they tend to confuse facts. If they do ask questions, don’t give them more than they can handle at such a young age, make sure to keep it age appropriate.
If your child is 6-11 years old it is best if you talk to them before they hear about anything in school. Again, make sure to keep it age appropriate and allow them direct the conversation. You do not want to give them too much information because at this age they can still get scared. If they ask you a question, answer the best way you know how, but don’t give too many details.
You also do not want to dismiss their fears though. As a parent, you are scared, so if your child expresses fear tell them that it’s O.K. to be scared, but also tell them that they are safe. You want to make sure your child feels safe and loved no matter what.
For older kids make sure you ask them what they know and do not know, and correct any facts as you see fit. They will often be hearing about the attacks from friends and social media and so many times they may miss facts or get mixed up a little. Ask them how they feel about the attacks and if they have any questions. Again, answer the questions as best as you can, and it is O.K. to be honest with them and just say you don’t know.
- Make sure you do talk to your children. Don’t assume that just because they are not asking you questions that they don’t have any. Also, don’t assume that just because they are not talking about it at all they don’t know about it.
- Make sure you know what they know. If they got all their information from friends at school it may not all be correct and having incorrect information can cause unneeded fear in your child.
- Allow your child to ask questions until they are finished. Don’t rush them through their questions, and make sure you take time with your child to explain everything the best you can.
- Don’t dismiss their feelings. They may be scared, mad, or sad; allow them to express their feelings without judgement.
- Make sure your child knows that during times like this people pull together and help those in need.
- Make sure your child knows that there are policies and procedures in place to deal with these types of situations and that those adults are doing their job, and we have to trust that they are doing the best they can.
- Explain to your child that there are more good people in the world than bad people and that even though the world is generally a good place, bad things will happen.
- Above all else, make sure your child knows they are safe and loved. Give them a big hug, if they want to stay closer to you, that is fine, but at the same time, make sure they know that they still have to go to school and you have to go to work.
Talking to your child about difficult subjects is hard, but it has to happen. As a parent it is something you have to do many times unfortunately. I hope that this makes it a little easier for you to talk to your children. If you would like more information please see this post from Time and this post from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. You can also read about how to talk to your kids about different types of terrorism (such as shooting and bombings) and resources from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
If you have any questions please feel free to ask, I will answer if I can.
Have you talked to your child about the attacks in Paris yet? Why or why not?