How to talk to children about terror

There are so many horrible things happening in the world every day. Mass shooting in California, Texas or Orlando, terrorism in France, Syria and as last night in Manchester – no matter where, we are all impacted. Our fear is real – it is getting closer and that´s scary! If it´s scary to us – imagine how do our children feel?

Sometimes we feel better ignoring the truth

Because of our increasing fear, and because it´s too difficult handle our children's scared feelings too, we often ignore or even try to pretend that everything is just normal and fine, instead of talking to them about what´s really going on – those of us who are not psychically impacted. We want to spare them of too many scary thoughts, and that´s understandable but not always the best way to deal with what is actually happening.

Children have “big” ears

Children often hear us talk about tragic events - somehow when we don´t think they are listening. If they wont hear it from us, they will hear it from one of their classmates in school, from media, from the lady in the supermarket or at a friend´s home. They will know something!

We can´t always know how much they do understand though, but the fact that they will pick up maybe small pieces must lead us to find out.

Bad things will happen

My youngest child asked me this morning after the horrifying terror attack in Manchester: “Will all this terrible and scary around us ever end?” I could only reply by saying “no”. “There will always be bad and sick people, no matter where you go. We can´t let fear stop us live our life, but we can learn to manage our fear and anxiety by looking at it and talking about it” – when feeling safe and secure.

How to do:

1. Find out what your children know and also what they think about what has happen. Help them put words on their thoughts. Use open questions.

2. It is important allowing them to talk about what has happened freely and without you putting too many of your own thoughts into the conversation. Listen to what they are concerned about and let them tell.

3. Answer the questions, which your children ask. Don´t tell too many details and alarming stories about what you have heard. This will tell you a lot about your children´s perception level. They will continue asking, if there´s more on their mind.

4. It is important that we can accommodate the feelings associated with the experience. If we can't, how can we teach our children to do so.

Stay realistic optimistic. It is ok to feel afraid. Say that the world is big and there´s nothing to be afraid of where you are. Our adult fear we should keep to ourselves.

5. If you find it difficult to open up the conversation, let your children draw whatever they are thinking about related to what happened. It is a fantastic way to connect and talk about something third as it is not as direct and confronting as sitting across to each other and having “a talk.”

6. Show mercy and hope. As parents we have a big responsibility because we are the primary example of empathy and must practice being empathic ourselves. This can be done with our use of language, our behavior and actions. Children will constantly be focused on us and therefore what they experience in their home will be crucial for their empathy development and the way they interact with other people in the future.

7. No matter what – always remember that life can be seen very different depending on from which side you look. No one is born evil or bad. It is the behavior which we don´t like, not necessarily the person behind.  Put it in perspective by saying that most places is doing fine, and that the world is a big place. This happened in a tiny place far away from where you are.

 

When we feel vulnerable it rather draws us closer to others or pushes us away. Being tuned into children´s vulnerability helps them regulate their nervous system and gives them the opportunity to stay ok in this, often, very chaotic world. As a psychotherapist with many years of working in the field, I know that being aware of helping children to conceptualize their feelings, either by talking, drawing or something third – we allow them to be in touch with their own feelings and that’s paramount for their personal development.

We can teach them (and ourselves), not to be afraid of the whole range of emotions, confronting whatever we feel and still continue living – even though we are afraid sometimes.