Children’s fears of terrorism are real – but parents can bring proportion
“Will our airport blow up?” Kirsty asked. It seemed an unusual question but her mum knew why she was asking.
For the last week Kirsty had been talking about the terrorist attack in Brussels after seeing the start of the 6 o’ clock news. Chat with friends at school seemed to have increased her anxiety and, with their trip to France coming up, the result was nightmares and Kirsty, aged 8, coming into bed with mum and dad every night.
It’s impossible for children to not hear about terrible things that happen in the world and the recent increase in terrorist attacks in Europe is bound to mean more worries for some children.
So how should we help our children like Kirsty deal with such worries?
Children 1st runs ParentLine, the Scottish national helpline, and we get parents and carers like Kirsty’s mum calling us about a whole range of issues, including the worries children and young people have. Our aim is to help parents and carers help their children, or get help from elsewhere if that’s needed.
The first important thing to point out is that your child has already done something positive by talking with you. So try and make sure you help them continue this good habit. You want them to come to you with their worries rather than bottling them up. You can do this by taking them seriously, not making them feel their worries are stupid but helping them get a more realistic perspective.
You also don’t want to communicate your anxieties about this too much. You want them to talk about their own fears and you don’t want them to get more upset about you. So, try and listen calmly.
Secondly, you want them to have a realistic understanding of risk. Whilst really bad things do happen, very occasionally, the likelihood of your child being the victim of a terrorist attack is very small. So help them to understand all of the times people use airports and nothing happens, all of the safe journeys people usually make. You want them to have a reasonable understanding of the world where there are lots of good people who want to help children even though there are some situations they should avoid. Also, help them know that if they do see something they are worried about, there are people like you, their schoolteacher, a police officer, or a trusted friend, who they can talk to.
Difficult conversations with children are opportunities for you to build an even better relationship with them. And if they are coming to you now when they are worried about a terrorist attack, you want to build that relationship so they will come to you when they need to talk about exam stress, worries about growing up, poor self-image and difficult relationships with friends and boy or girl friends. Listening to their fears without minimising them is key to helping children feel heard and understood and therefore reducing their anxiety.
Parenting and caring for children is sometimes really hard for all of us. Just talking things through with someone else can help you do the best for your kids. So phone or text Parentline if you want to check out how best to help your children.
Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844
Web-chat at: www.parentlinescotland.org.uk