How And Why We Should Be Explaining Terrorism To Our Children


With the recent terrorist attack on London and all the other crazy events that have taken place over the last year, there is no doubt that your children might be asking “Why do people want to hurt us?” Now, although it might be tempting to just hug them tightly and brush off the subject to maintain their ignorance, events like these can have a very big impact on our children, so it is best to try and talk to them about it.

As we are still looking for ways to make sense of these events to ourselves, it might seem an impossible task to explain them to an innocent child. However, while no parent is naturally prepared to answer this heartbreaking question, it is really crucial that we try and do our best to.

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Why We Should Explain the Attacks

As a parent, we want to shield our children from everything bad in the world, not only to protect them but to also keep them blissfully young for as long as possible. While this is perfectly fine and we all do it, like most things, we have to eventually let in some of the real world to prepare our children for what is to come.

So why should we be trying to talk to our children about the latest attacks?

First things first, with the news being shown on every TV and newspaper, wouldn’t you rather be the one who tells your child about it rather than them hearing about it from someone else? With the topic being discussed openly everywhere, it is better for our children to have the conversation with family where they can ask questions and be reassured of their safety. The last thing we need is for an unnecessary fear to spread because our children don’t understand what has gone on.

Secondly, with terrorist reports becoming a part of everyday life, this has now unfortunately become another lesson that we have to teach our children. After all, don’t we still want them to explore everything the world has to offer? While we would love to stop it all and keep them safe, just like we teach them right from wrong, the best thing we can do as a parent is to be honest and explain these events in a meaningful way. That is all we can do to show them that there is mostly good in the world and send them on their way to explore it safely and with a balanced perspective.

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A mother and daughter in the sea

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How to Explain the Attacks

Whether your child is asking you the dreaded questions or not, eventually the time will come when you have to broach the subject of terrorism with your children. The important thing is to stay calm, talk to them as adults and make sure you listen to everything they have to say until they are satisfied to move on. To help you with the conversation, here are some tips to bear in mind.

  1. Find Out What They Know – By simply asking your children about their day and if they’ve heard anything interesting, you’re allowing them to steer the discussion. You can then see if you need to expand on or explain anything to them, and what concerns you may need to focus on.
  2. Talk About it More Than Once – It’s important to keep the conversation open and to let your children know that they can come to you any time to talk about difficult topics. Once you’ve talked about certain events, don’t consider this an end of discussion. Bring it up again some time later, even if you’re just asking if they have anymore questions. Your children need to know that they have someone to talk to as it makes the topic less scary and prevents them getting the wrong information from their peers.
  3. Keep it Simple – Depending on the age of your children, you might need to keep it as simple as “some bad people hurt some people because they were angry.” Regardless of the age, it is important to keep it as basic as possible and to turn each conversation into a teaching lesson of why this isn’t okay.
  4. Bring it to Their Level – Children are very egocentric and want to know that they are going to be okay as well as everyone else around them. To relate a terrorist even to them, you can try and discuss similar experiences that your child will understand. For example, if two friends want a toy at the same time but only one of them can have it. Children will understand the concepts of fighting and sharing, so you need to explain it briefly in ways they will understand, and then assure them that no one is trying to hurt them or us specifically.
  5. Encourage Them to Express How They Feel – By helping your children name their feelings and understand why they feel a certain way, this teaches them coping strategies that will shape their behaviour in adulthood.
  6. Reassure Them – You can acknowledge that what has happened is scary and even that we don’t have the answers or know why this has happened. However, it is very important to follow this up with the explanation that there are many more good people in the world and many of them are working very hard to keep our country safe. Reassuring your child with your words and behaviour will help them to feel safe and give them a better perspective of the world.
  7. Model Good Coping Skills – It is crucial that we don’t pass our own fears onto our children, so while what has happened is scary, they need to see that despite this, we are okay. Our children watch and learn from us, so if you are scared yourself, explain to them that you are but you’re also comforted by the fact that these occurrences are rare and people are working hard to prevent it from happening again. Confidence is key, so don’t lie about your true feelings, use them to reassure them that they are safe.
  8. Empower Them – Terrorist attacks are frightening because we feel powerless to do anything about them, so help your children focus on areas of their life that they do have control. Something as simple as enforcing the importance of wearing a seatbelt or a cycling helmet, or even discussing what you would do in an emergency, can really help children to establish a positive mindset of what they can do rather than what they can’t.

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Important things to remember:

  • Be honest and open
  • Try to encourage questions
  • Accept that you can only do your best to make your children ‘feel better.’ It will take time for them to make sense of everything.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your children how you are feeling
  • Be willing to talk about difficult topics
  • Use these conversations as opportunities to teach and reassure them
  • Try to moderate what news and social media is acceptable for your child to see and hear. Be aware that a lot of news announcements are very adult and could frighten some children if they don’t understand it. Use this as an opportunity to explain the role of the media.
  • Hysteria is what the terrorists want, so anything we can do to prevent this (e.g focus on the good guys and teach our children about empathy, determination and vigilance), can only be a positive thing

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“We need to understand that there is such a low chance of dying from a terrorist attack, and it’s important that we instill this in our children to give them a balanced view of the world.”

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Although you still may want to wrap up your children in a duvet and cuddle them forever, hopefully you will feel more prepared to have these conversations when the time is right. If you’re unsure about what the ‘right time’ is, find out if your children know anything or have any questions and go from there.

Events like these can have really damaging and lasting effects on our children if we don’t address them, so even if you are afraid yourself, it’s important that we prepare our children and teach them not to be. Only then will we have peace of mind when it is time for them to explore the world on their own, so it is our duty to give them the best start possible.

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Resources: Additional Help and Advice

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/mental-health/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-terrorism-and-violence

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/do-explain-westminster-terror-attack-children/

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