When terrible events happen, such as the attacks in Paris, parents’ immediate instinct is to shield their children from them. While this is perfectly natural, particularly as parents are probably having difficulty processing the events too, it may not always be the best approach. The 24-hour news cycle means it will be difficult to shield your kids, if they don’t hear it on the radio, the TV, or internet you can’t stop what they overhear from the adults around them – or the other kids at school.
It’s therefore best that the information about what’s happened comes from you, so that you are able to answer any questions, convey the facts, and set the emotional tone. By initiating this dialogue, and allowing and encouraging your kids to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills. Trust your instincts too. Kids vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability. You know your kid and what they can handle better than anyone.
The overriding advice to parents has always been to remind your kids that they live in a safe community and extreme events that are occurring elsewhere are not occurring here in their own street. However, the events in Paris make that reassurance all the more challenging for parents. The threat of terrorist attacks occurring on our own doorstep is today a very real one. But we still must try to reassure them and therefore the focus of your conversations with them must be that you will keep them safe and offer them security in the world.
When you’re talking to your kids about terror attacks, it’s important that you stay calm, as they will sense the emotions you bring to your conversation. If you are feeling too overwhelmed, just wait until a later time. The amount of information you share will be dependent on your child. Provide simple and general information, but allow space for their questions. Many children will ask if other children were hurt in the attack. If children were hurt, express to your own child how sad this is. Allow your child to feel sad, because it is sad. You do not want to dismiss their emotions, or to make them go away.
The question that’s the hardest to answer is “Why?” Why did this happen and who were the bad guys? The best response is again to provide general and simple information. It is important to teach them that acts of violence are not committed by or represent the thoughts and beliefs of an entire race or ethnic group. Children need to hear that the overwhelming majority of people in the world condemn any act of violence and terror. You may not agree with someone else’s ideas, but you cannot hurt them for expressing them. So remind your child, no matter what age they are, that most people in the world are good and kind.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photo: Beatrice Urruspil (Flickr)