In the last 3 weeks there have been 2 terrorist attacks in the news. Unless your children are completely oblivious, it’s certain they have heard something on the news or heard adults around them talking about these events.
Depending on the temperament of your child, he or she may express many emotions related to these attacks, including anxiety, sadness, anger. Many parents are uncertain about talking to children about terrorism. It can be very for adults to deal with such intense emotions. Don’t think that just because their bodies are smaller that children’s emotions are any less intense.
How can we help our children understand and deal with what’s happened? The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has information on their website about how to talk with our children and teens about terrorism and war.
- Let them express themselves
Children may not be ready to talk about the topic right away. They may need time to process things they have seen and heard. When they are ready to talk, listen to them without judging and ask them questions to draw out their concerns.
Remember that small (and some medium-sized) children are very concrete and their world revolves around them. Their concerns are most likely to be related to their own safety and that of family and people they know.
Children who have trouble talking about their feelings may need to express them in another way. Drawing and painting are good options for them.
- Answer their questions
Remember to use terms your child will understand. Give them the information that they ask for, but don’t overwhelm them with facts and figures. Being realistic and concrete with them is very helpful. For instance, reminding a small child that the doors at the school are locked and visitors have to ask to be let in can reassure her that bad guys can’t get in and hurt her. Giving a high-five to the security guard in the morning will remind her that grownups are there to protect her.
It’s important to validate your child’s feelings. Telling him there’s no reason to be scared or that everything is fine will make him feel his emotions and concerns aren’t important to you.
- Provide support
Keep your child’s routine as predictable and settled as possible. Routine is comforting for a child. Protect her from too much violent and upsetting imagery on TV. Keep inviting her to talk about her feelings and ask questions.
Be aware that some children express emotional distress with physical symptoms. Headaches, stomachaches, regression, clinginess, and an unwillingness to go to school can all be signs that a child is having trouble processing upsetting events. If your child is really struggling to function normally or very bothered by physical symptoms please make sure to see his doctor. Sometimes a referral to a counselor is needed.
The stress, uncertainty and anxiety brought on by the terrorist attacks of the last few weeks are not confined only to adults. As parents it is sometimes difficult to know how to handle our children’s reactions to traumatic events. By following the child’s lead, giving them information in a way they understand, letting them express themselves, and providing support we can help kids process these events in a healthy way and reassure them they are safe and loved.
QUESTION: Have your children asked you questions about the recent terrorist attacks that have taken you by surprise? How did you answer them?