Written by Emma-Charlotte Bangay
Knowing how to talk about terrorism with your kids is terrifically challenging, and it’s a bloody sad thing we have to do. But burying your head in the sand and scooting over the questions may be worse. Unfortunately, it’s a reality for parents that this is now the ‘other’ talk we have to have with children of a certain age.
I don’t want to alarm my kids about recent terror attacks in Manchester, London and even Melbourne, but I am also hell bent on arming them with the facts.
“As much as we would like our kids to “be careful” when venturing out in the world, the greatest gift we can give them is to empower them to trust their own gut instincts and knowing to follow that,” explains Laleh Handcock, Right Voice For You Facilitator. “To not stop living in the name of being careful, just because something might happen, and to not just go somewhere because all their friends are.”
Sylvia Puentes, Access Consciousness Facilitator and Educator, notes that even young children – who aren’t on social media or sitting in front of the evening news – may absorb stories of terror at school. “We must first begin to acknowledge that whether children watch the news or not, they are aware of the changes and challenges we are facing in today’s world,” she says. “The impact on kids is determined by how parents and adults are dealing with these issues.”
So how do you know if your child is becoming affected by the recent attacks in Manchester, London, Belgium, Paris and even Melbourne? And how much do they know – or need to know – about it all?
How to Talk About Terrorism With Your Kids
Look and Listen
“If a child feels frustrated, angry or fearful ask them questions,” Sylvia urges. “If a child begins to withdraw or become aggressive or compulsive take a moment to listen to what may be under the behaviour. Often they perceive so much at one time, they have not been able to process it or require more information.”
Start With Yourself
What is my perception of this issue or incident?
Am I willing to open myself up to a different perspective or idea?
By answering any questions without a hard sided view, you are enabling yourself to communicate more openly with your child, Sylvia notes. This enables children to process the information as they would, not as you may be doing.
Be willing to be honest with yourself first. You must acknowledge your judgments and their origin. If we are to teach the next generation that this type of racial divide and discourse is not tolerable, they will never accept it.
Identify That You Can’t Fix This One
As parents, we want to solve problems for our children. But we can’t offer an answer to ‘WHY’ with terror attacks, so don’t try.
“Notice if you are holding tension in your body,” says Sylvia. “If so, before you approach your child take a few minutes to put your feet on the ground, your butt on the seat and place your hands on your face and feel your hands touch your face and your face touch your hands,” she says. Calm yourself and try and eliminate your fear first before abating theirs.
Answer When Asked
“Often kids don’t require as much detail as we think they do,” Sylvia assures, so address only what your child asks about and don’t add extra detail. This is really important as they may not know as much as you think they do, and therefore any extra details may add to their distress.
Keep It Simple
“Acknowledge there are mean, unkind people in the world,” Sylvia says. This truth is something your child may have already experienced on the playground, so ask them what this feels like and what it would be like if all people were loving and kind. “Ask them to describe what kind of world they would like to have,” suggests Sylvia.
Find A Good Source
“Kids of any age will be exposed to information from others; when attending school, or any activity, through other kids, their siblings or overhearing other adults,” says Laleh. “So, rather than stopping your children from all media, ask “Which media would be a better fit for my child?” There are some great outlets aimed at school age children. Crinkling News and Behind The News are fantastic news resources designed for children. Invite your children to read them, rather than the newspaper.
Keep Communication Open
“With smart phones and computers, teens have access to information as fast as their parents,” Laleh points out. “Opening communication about the media coverage they are exposed to is key and, depending on the age of your child, wherever possible, you may choose to moderate the different media forms that they can be exposed to.” For example, whilst newspaper headlines may be descriptive, the content within the article may be easier than a video of the tragedies she says. “You can employ additional strategies such as reading the newspaper or watching the news first, before sharing it with the kids.”
Understand Their Inquisitiveness
Don’t judge you or your teen for what you or they choose to watch, says Sylvia, but ask questions about what they decide to watch. “You may learn more about your child and what they may be searching for,” she says. And you may be able to offer them answers that are less sensationalized and more sensitive to your child.
If your child requires devices to complete homework, set guidelines about what they can or cannot look up online. During times of global unease, it is always advisable to have your child work on school iPads and tablets in a central space of the home, not alone in their bedrooms.