Earlier this week, a suicide bombing occurred at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, leaving 22 dead and at least 60 people injured in its wake. Many of the victims were children and their mothers. And because a substantial portion of Ariana Grande’s fan base is made up of children and young adults, it makes a conversation like this even more necessary to have with your kids. Here’s how to talk to children about terror attacks and violence and help them feel safe in the aftermath of such unthinkable violence.
More likely than not, a lot of parents are caught between a rock and a hard place when dealing with war and terrorism. As parents, we have an intrinsic need to preserve childhood innocence as much as possible, however long it may extend their naivety. And while we don’t want to our children to be fearful of the world, we also don’t want them to exclude them from it either. Eventually, the information will be delivered to your kids – regardless of the method – which is why you as the parent should be the messenger. You can facilitate the conversation healthily, and in a context that feels appropriate for you and your child (rather than them hearing it in an off-hand conversation with a friend). Ultimately, the world is not a terrible place to be in, but unfortunate things do happen in it. Let them know the Ariana Grande attack was not a common occurrence, and that someone who was sick and angry took it out on innocent bystanders.
For a more detailed guide, The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry is a great source for how to handle talking to children about war and terrorism which includes:
Listening to your kids. Create a time and place for them to ask questions, and be conscientious of if they are ready to talk about something like that. Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about friends or relatives who live in a city or state associated with incidents or events. Help children find ways to express themselves. Some children may not be able to talk about their thoughts, feelings, or fears. They may be more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys, or writing stories or poems directly or indirectly related to current events.
Answering their questions. Use words and concepts your child can understand. Make your explanation appropriate to your child’s age and level of understanding. Don’t overload a child with too much information. Give them honest answers and information. Children will usually know if you’re not being honest. Be prepared to repeat explanations or have several conversations. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may be your child’s way of asking for reassurance. Avoid stereotyping groups of people by race, nationality, or religion. Use the opportunity to teach that a lot of violence and injustices stem from people’s intolerance of each other’s viewpoints. Don’t confront your child’s way of handling events. If a child feels reassured by saying that things are happening very far away, it’s usually best not to disagree. The child may need to think about events this way to feel safe.
Providing support. Coordinate information between home and school. Parents should know about activities and discussions at school. Teachers should know about the child’s specific fears or concerns. Children who have experienced trauma or losses may show more intense reactions to tragedies or news of war or terrorist incidents. These children may need extra support and attention. Help children to communicate with others and express themselves at home. Finally, let children be children. They may not want to think or talk a lot about these events, and it’s okay if they’d rather play ball, climb trees, or ride their bike, etc.
The McGruff Safe Kit team wants to give you all the tools and resources to be able to approach this discussion. For additional information, go to Jim Greenman’s guides on talking to children about terrorism and natural disasters. Also, don't forget to stay prepared with your own McGruff Safe kit!