Talking to children about terrorism

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack at Manchester arena on Monday night, our thoughts remain with all of those who were affected, their families and their friends. We hope that they are receiving the specialist support they need in the difficult days and weeks ahead.

As the media continues to be dominated by news of a growing number of arrests and armed police become more visible to children and young people in their towns and cities, we as parents and carers have a complex job of helping our children and young people to understand what’s happening and responding appropriately to their possible worries or fears.

Faced with the events of this week, it is important to encourage children to open up about any worries they may have. You can do this by pointing out that your child has done something positive by talking with you, taking them seriously and not making them feel their worries are stupid.

You also don’t want to communicate your own anxieties too much. You want children  to talk about their own fears and you don’t want them to get more upset about how you are feeling.

One good way to do this is by listening to what your child has said, and letting them know you have heard. Simply by repeating back to a child calmly that, for instance, “you feel frightened in case the explosion happens again, when we are nearby,” can help a child not become overwhelmed, because they see that you aren’t overwhelmed.

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 that people go to concerts and travel and almost always these activities are safe. Much of the immediate media coverage about the Manchester attack focused on the many, many people who helped others by providing food, a safe place to stay or a free taxi ride home. You want children to have a reasonable understanding of the world where there are lots of good people who want to help even though there are some situations children should avoid. Also, help children 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. It’s an opportunity to give your child a cuddle and for them to safely talk about their greatest fears. 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.

Children 1st’s ParentLine service is available for any parent or carer who wants to talk through how best to help their children with any issue – big or small
Parentline Phone 08000 28 22 33, Parentline text 07860 022 844