Following last week’s devastating attacks in Brussels, I began to realize that in today’s world, terrorism is no longer a topic we can avoid talking about—even with our children, who we long to protect from such atrocity. Likely they know bits and pieces of what has been going on, from learning about 9/11 in their history classes and seeing news of ISIS all over the media, but how do we approach these topics in a more personal way?
Of course, the conversation you have with your child will depend on their age, but seeing as I focus on writing for children around the age of 9, this article is going to focus on that particular age range. Here are some ways I thought of to best handle such a far-reaching and emotional topic of conversation.
Start by asking what they’ve heard. Many times, information will be spread around their school by other kids who may have overheard their parents discussing the attacks, seeing their parents watch the news, or from posts on social media. The problem with this is that often times the information will be scattered, unclear, and maybe exaggerated to a point where your child could feel more scared than they need to about the situation. A good way to start your conversation would be to come to a clear point about what they know about an attack, and about terrorism in general, and then set the story straight if any of their information is incorrect.
Don’t diminish their feelings about the situation. Whether they know an exaggerated story or the full truth, likely your child is going to feel scared about what they know. Don’t tell them not to worry about it or that their fear is misplaced—it is better to be honest with them in saying that other people are scared by what’s happening too, and that their feelings are understood.
Show them the “good side.” Much of what your child knows at this point in life is that there is bad, and there is good. This has been emphasized in the TV shows and movies they watch, the books they read, and the stories they’ve been told; there are bad people, but the good people win. After they know that feeling fear is normal, let them know that there are police, community leaders, military, and a government working to protect all of us. Show them pictures of people lighting candles, laying out flowers, and coming together after a tragic event. Remind them that there is good in the world, and that the stories they know about good winning are true.
Finally, be an open book (only about the necessary facts). Answer their questions. Why does this happen? Is it going to happen to us? Be honest—give them the information they need, and only that. Don’t go into detail about all the bad things terrorist groups do, don’t show them any gruesome pictures, and don’t scare them into believing that an attack can happen at any moment. End every one of your answers by reminding them about the good side, and the good people working to keep them safe. This is an uncertain area of life, but your children need to be certain that they are loved and protected.
When I think about what children need to know about terrorism, I think of the video below:
There are bad guys everywhere, but the flowers and candles are here to protect us.
Have you had a conversation with your child about terrorism? Let me know how you would handle it in the comments below.