What Parents Need To Know Before Talking To Children About Terrorism

November 24, 2015
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The recent terrorists attacks worldwide have served as a harrowing reminder of senseless evil that exists in the world.

Although the tragic events have been difficult for adults to emotionally process, the subject of terrorism is even trickier for children to fully understand. Many parents have undoubtedly been left wondering the same question: How do we begin to explain to our kids what happened, or why?

The thing is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. What it comes down to in most cases is the age and maturity of the child.

“For all ages, children are processing the same overall issues, but the perspective children have and the way they respond will vary based on age,” Dr. David Schonfeld, an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson, told CBS News in a recent interview.

Very young children don’t need much detail about the violence that has occurred, as they won’t be able to fully understand it anyway. (Plus, it will probably just scare them even more.) Also, if your small child isn’t aware of the attacks, it might not be a terrible idea to keep it that way, Dr. Daniel Hilliker, a pediatric psychologist with the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, told CBS News.

Preschool-aged children, on the other hand, might see what’s happening from mom and dad watching the news or overseeing something on social media. Kids in this age group tend to ask for more specifics and will require more explanation about how close the danger is. They might see scary images on TV and worry that danger is near them. For this reason, it’s important to reassure young children that France, for example, is actually very far away. Parents should take care to monitor and limit young kids’ exposure to photos, videos and media coverage of terrorist attacks, too.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, one of the most important things to keep in mind when faced with the topic of terrorism is to simply listen to kids. Listen to their questions. Listen to their fears. If they don’t feel like talking about these feelings, perhaps consider having them draw or write about them instead.

Here are a few tips that will help parents answer kids’ questions concerning terrorism, as provided by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Use words your child can understand.
  • Give children honest answers and information.
  • Be prepared to repeat explanations.Sometimes, certain information is difficult for kids to understand; asking the same questions again might be a way your child is seeking reassurance from you.
  • Acknowledge and support your child’s thoughts, feelings and reactions.
  • Be reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises.
  • Avoid stereotyping groups of people by race, nationality or religion.
  • It’s fine to let your child know how you are feeling about the situation — that you’re worried or anxious. But don’t overburden kids with these fears.

For even more advice on talking with children about acts of terrorism, click here to visit this helpful resource page from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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