How to Explain Terrorism to your Child?

As parents, there is a constant temptation to shield our children from bad news. But sometimes, and in particular with acts of terrorism, bad news is unavoidable - it’s in on television, it’s on social media, and it’s on our minds.

Experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists have advised that parents should be honest with their children about the Manchester terror attack. "We would not advise hiding your child from what may be on the news or social media," said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chairwoman-elect of RCP's child and adolescent psychiatry faculty. "They will inevitably learn about it from their friends, so it's best to be honest with them about what has happened.

Yet how exactly do you go about explaining to a young child that 22 people have been murdered at a concert?

Language Matters

For children of all ages, the most important thing is to reassure them that they are safe. Don’t get into the political context with primary-aged children. That may come up in conversation with older children, but the importance at any age is offering the reassurance that they are safe.

For pre-school children, use concrete language: don’t say “This person went to sleep” or “We’ve lost that person” - because that could instil fear or anxiety in that child about going to sleep. And what does lost mean? They’re lost at the shops? Be accurate and mindful of the impact of your language.

Age-appropriate conversations

For pre-school, think about how much exposure they’ve had. Maybe they’ve overheard the news, so the conversation could be quite brief: acknowledge what has happened, and say that lots of people have died as a result of a really bad incident. You can say that we don’t know why this has happened.

As the parent or teacher or carer, the most important part is to offer reassurance: this is very unusual, there are lots of safety checks in place to protect us.

Use age-appropriate language, and be aware of what your child understands: do they really know what “died” means? It’s usually not until the age of 5 or 6 that children understand that death is permanent.

With primary school, the majority will understand what “dead” means. So it may be that you can add details - you may be able to sit down and watch the 6 o’clock news together.
The perpetrators

You should talk about a bad action or behaviour - not bad people. Ms Allen explains: “A lot of our work is with families bereaved through murder.

With children, you must be careful about the language: people aren’t bad - it’s something bad that they’ve done - this helps prevent anxiety in children, and fears that ‘bad people’ are coming to get them.”

Social Media Awareness

Secondary school aged children will have come across news about the attacks already on social media. Remind them that some of the things they have read there may be incorrect. Have a conversation with your child about what they think has happened.

Talk about the images they’ve seen - these can be more powerful than words.

If they see an image, and haven’t had a conversation with someone they trust, they will build up these images something that is so big that it’s unmanageable for them; you don’t want a child to start fantasising that someone is going to come after them.
Promote peace

When I have spoken to my children, who are primary and pre-school age, about previous terror attacks, I've tried to shift their focus towards the coming together people in the aftermath, and the work people around the world to keep everyone safe.

Shield them
This hysteria is exactly what the people carrying out these acts want. And it is exactly this sort of hysteria that we, as parents, need to protect our children from. Instead, this is the sentiment we need to spread: that the majority of the world wants peace.

  • This story is upsetting for children because they can imagine something like this happening to them or someone close to them.
  • The next few days might be more difficult as images of people grieving will be shown on the television, which can be upsetting for children and might trigger more questions.
  • It is very unusual that something like this happens. This is one of the reasons why it is on the news and lots of people are talking about it; it is also because it is very upsetting that something like this could happen.
  • Children find the idea of bad people particularly frightening. Children are also very fair-minded and will want reassurance that the person who did this has been caught by the police and will be punished.
  • This can be an opportunity to help young people develop their empathy and reflect on the value of life and relationships.

What if they ask why it happened?
If the children want to know ‘why?’ you could say something like:

‘No-one can completely know why. We know it wasn’t an accident. It’s so, so difficult to understand why anyone would be so cruel as to kill other people.’

If your children are scared they or you will die.
Try to answer with some solid reassurance, such as: "We don’t expect anything like this will ever happen here.

"If one of us died for any reason, you would always be looked after by ­­­­­­______ (the other parent/aunt/uncle/granny/family friend). I don’t expect to die for a long time yet’.

May the beautiful beings who lost their precious lives yesterday, rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Children have innocent minds. But explaining the concept of terrorism to them is important. Thanks for your post I’m sure you have helped alot of parents.