Smoke rising into the sky from burning towers. Derailed train cars split open by a blast. Special forces lining up outside a building. Covered bodies lying strewn about. Repeated gunshots ringing out. Crowds fleeing in panic. Bodies being carried out of a pile of rubble.
Those are the visual images of acts of terrorism.
More recently, the media has been flooded with news about several simultaneous attacks in Paris France and more locally, LAUSD closed all district schools due to a threat of violence on one or more campuses. Worry and concern spread widely as other school districts reported a significant drop in attendance.
It’s on the radio, TV, and Internet. Everywhere.
How can you possibly shield your children from this? – You can’t.
But what you must do is talk with them about it. How?
1. Inform them.
You can’t stop the massive flow of new reports, but you can make sure that your children only get age-appropriate information – from the media or from you.
A problem young children have is they often interpret the images and information they see on TV in a totally different way than an adult. They might worry that the acts of terrorism depicted are happening very close by and that they, or somebody they care about, are in immediate danger. They might also believe that when they see something more than once on the news it also happened more than once. A parents of young children must consider setting firm limits on the amount of exposure they’ll have to news broadcasts.
Older children, on the other hand, need to know how to regulate their own exposure to this information. They should be taught when to shut down the news reports. If they’re no longer learning anything new, or if the information doesn’t help them to cope with the tragedy, they should turn if off.
2. Listen to them.
Some children immediately spill everything they heard about a tragic event. Others keep their fears and worries inside, or have no idea how to express them.
Tactful questions about what they’ve heard about these acts of terrorism can give you a starting point. Then, let the information they give dictate the course of the conversation. Let your child direct the discussion with the concerns they have. Allow them to ask questions, and keep the answers simple. If you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend you do.
To the best of your ability, help your child understand what’s going on. Encourage them to express themselves freely, and share your own feelings with them. Let them know that what they’re feeling makes sense. Don’t tell them how to feel, and don’t imagine that you’ll only need to talk with them one time. Acts of terrorism are senseless and atrocious tragedies – to process their horrors takes time.
3. Reassure them.
Undoubtedly, you don’t want your children to develop an immobilizing fear of this world due to repeated exposure to disturbing news reports. While a young child may be easily reassured with a hug and your expressions of love for them, an older child might need more verbal convincing.
Remind your child that there are authorities trained in handling acts of terrorism, and that they have procedures and protocols in place that help them take care of the situation and prevent future attacks. Share with your children if you yourself are frightened and saddened by the event, but also assure them that you’re comforted by the fact that there are many people that work very hard to keep others safe.
Above all, help your children have a balanced perspective. Reason with them that there are a lot more good people in this world than bad ones, and that these tragedies are considered newsworthy because they’re unusual – not common.