Talking to your children about terrorism
Recent events in Paris, Beirut, and Egypt disturb our sense of security and safety. It’s impossible not to experience the impact of these terrible and senseless acts of violence. Adults are glued to news stations, the Internet, and radio, reading and hearing about the events as they unfold. The world is connected by the speed of light. Diners, huddled under restaurant tables, while gunmen shoot innocent bystanders, videotape the mayhem by cellphone, post the media on YouTube, and it’s sent around the world in nanoseconds. This is the world we live in.
Sadly, human violence is not new. Perhaps, as a species, we haven’t come as far as we would like to think. But what is new is the speed at which this information can be shared around the world.
Our children hear about these events too. They are glued to their smart phones and computer screens. They know what’s happening. Its very difficult, perhaps impossible, to shield them from these stark realities.
It’s vitally important for us to take the time to discuss these events with our children. We also have to recognize that children don’t understand these events in the same way we do—they are concrete and personalize them very quickly.
Here are some important points to consider.
Ask your children what they have heard. Have kids tell you in their own words what they have learned. Listen carefully for inaccuracies and half-truths. Correct misunderstandings, but in age appropriate terms.
Stay calm. Children are emotional sponges—they will absorb whatever you are feeling. It’s important to stay calm and centered when you are talking to them, no matter how upset you are.
Acknowledge their feelings. Most kids let it all hang out—they will let you know if they are scared, sad, or mad. Listen, reflect back their feelings, and acknowledge that their feelings are important. Some kids do keep their emotions in—respect their way of coping too.
Be honest. Kids want to feel safe and secure. They want to be reassured. They may ask—Can this happen here? Focus on how careful you are to keep your children safe. But we can’t promise them that everything will be all right. We can be specific about what we do to keep them secure. Be reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises.
Children that have experienced trauma or loss may be impacted more. Children that have recent losses may experience a bigger reaction to these current events. They may have nightmares, stomachaches, or become more anxious. These youngsters may need more support and help. If their anxiety doesn’t diminish after several weeks, ask your primary care provider for a referral to a mental health specialist.
Keep life predictable. Do all the things that your kids are scheduled to do. Staying busy and occupied is very helpful when dealing with uncertainty and anxiety. Kids are reassured by routines.
Don’t let young children watch disturbing images on television or video. This is a good time to make sure your kids aren’t watching some of the scary images on television or the Internet. Don’t watch these videos when your children are around.
Take time to let teenagers discuss these issues. Teens are particularly vulnerable to the ups and downs of the world around them. While they are uncommonly interested in themselves (this I am sure you have noticed…), they are also trying to understand the adult stage they will soon enter. Help them work through their perceptions and thoughts about adult life.
For more information, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website-- https://www.aacap.org or the American Psychological Association—https://www.apa.org. These organizations have information and resources for parents.