PARENTS

How To Talk To Children About Terrorism

17/11/2015 11:06 GMT | Updated 18/08/2017 09:17 BST

In the wake of terrorist acts, such as the van attack in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, it can be tempting to try to wrap children in cotton wool and protect them from the news.

But the chances of keeping kids away from reports of terrorism, whether on TV, in newspapers or in the playground, are slim at best.

With this in mind HuffPost UK Parents sought the advice of child psychologists and children's charities spokespeople, to learn how best to discuss terrorism with kids.

children brussels

A girl lights a candle at the Place de la Bourse following terrorist attacks in Brussels, on March 22, 2016

"Terrorism is a difficult subject to talk to children about because it is not easy even for parents to comprehend or accept," says Katharine Hill, UK director at Care for the Family.

"However, adults do need to discuss these topics with children and teens because unfortunately they are exposed to them from all directions.

"One of the most important things is to make sure that your child knows he can talk to you, ask questions and open up about his fears and other emotions."

How To Approach Questions

"Try to be as honest and open with your answers to their questions," advises Hill. "But make sure your responses and explanations are age appropriate and don’t bombard them with too much information."

Siobhan Freegard, founder of Channel Mum agrees it is important to approach the topic in an age appropriate manner.

"Talking to your children about terrorism is a horrible job, but a necessary one in the modern world and how you tackle it depends very much on their age," says Freegard.

"Very small kids really don't need an in-depth explanation as they won't be able to fully understand and it will only frighten them further. If you really need to say something, explain some people have 'been very naughty and will get told off for it.'

Older children are likely to want more information.

"Fobbing children aged eight and over off with short answers will just give them more anxiety," says child psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children Amanda Gummer.

"Simple age appropriate answers are best and don't be afraid to say 'I don’t know'. Agree that is is sad and tragic and not something you are able to fix. It actually helps children to understand these complex issues if they know there isn't an easy answer."

Freegard adds: "Over time older children will begin to understand that bad things happen to good people but there is no reason or benefit to them being frightened or overwhelmed with information they can't process.

"What we don't want to do is create a modern day boogie man, so don't frighten them with dark explanations - or in some ways the terrorists have won."

Perspective Is Key

"Above all, make your child feel safe," says Freegard. "However horrific the recent events, your chances of being hurt in a terror attack are tiny, so ensure your family focuses on what's good in the world and how these attacks can bring people together, not tear us apart."

Gauge What Level Of Information Your Child Wants

"Answer questions based on what your children know," advises family therapist Susan Stiffelman in a blog for The Huffington Post.

"Your first question should be, 'It's good that you came to me with this question. Can you tell me what you have heard?'

"Less is more. Many children only want to know: Am I safe? Could this happen to me? Read between the lines of your children's questions and recognise that what they want most is reassurance.

"After you've offered a minimal amount of information, take note as to whether they are satisfied, for now, with what you have shared. Don't flood children with more information than they are ready to process."

BUT Don't Be Evasive

Suzie Hayman, Family Lives trustee explains that if children ask direct questions it is best to give them as full and honest an answer as possible.

“When addressing difficult questions, sometimes our instinct is to avoid giving a full answer or quickly changing the subject, hoping that the child will move on and forget about it," says Hayman.

"We do this perhaps to protect and shield loved ones from some potentially disturbing knowledge or simply because we just don’t have the complete answer, but being evasive is not the best way to respond.

"If you don’t answer your child’s question satisfactorily or you make them feel awkward for enquiring, they may be reluctant to ask other questions that are important to them. It’s important to have a response – and not just provide a brief sentence but to have an age appropriate and proper discussion

"A good way to start is by turning the question back and asking, 'What do you think?' That may help give you an idea of what the child knows already, and what they think they know and what they are really trying to ask.

"It’s fine to say, 'That’s a very difficult question. I might have to ask someone or look it up.' Or even, 'You need to be a bit older before I can really explain that properly – can you wait a bit?'

"The important thing is that you let your child know you are willing to answer questions. If you don’t, they may go ask somewhere else – such as the internet or their friends – and get completely the wrong information.”

Acknowledge Your Child's Feelings

"If a child admits to a concern, do not respond, 'Oh, don’t be worried,' because he may feel embarrassed or criticised," advises Harold Koplewicz from the Child Mind Institute, which offers several resources for parents on how to talk to children about traumatic events.

He adds: "Simply confirm what you are hearing by saying: 'Yes, I can see that you are worried.'"

Monitor Media

Allow children to watch the news but don't let them become consumed by it.

"Be mindful of any disturbing news coverage," advises Hill. "Even older children can be disturbed by graphic news content, so make sure their viewing is supervised."

Lead The Way

"Model calm," advises Stiffelman.

"I know this is easier said than done, but children look to us to determine how they should feel about something.

"If you are frantic or beside yourself with worry, your children cannot help but be negatively affected. Find ways to bolster your spirit, whether it's prayer, meditation, yoga, music, or time in nature to help you regain a sense of equilibrium as best you can so that you can be a calming presents for your kids."

Teach Them To 'Run, Hide, Tell'

Scotland Yard has advised children in the UK need to be taught how to deal with a terrorist attack, in a way similar to how they are warned about ‘stranger danger'.

“When I was at school, everybody used to talk about ‘stranger danger’, that was the sort of buzz phrase and it’s still a thing I remember today,” said assistant deputy commissioner Lucy D’Orsi, the National Police Chief’s Council spokesperson for protective security.

“For me that messaging needs to be to children as well as to the broader public."

D’Orsi encouraged parents and teachers to spread the messaging of ‘Run, Hide, Tell’, a campaign that instructs a person to run to a place of safety, rather than surrender or negotiate.

If there’s nowhere to go, then hide, as it’s better to hide than to confront. Then when it is safe to do so, tell the police, making sure your phone is on silent, not vibrate.

Be Available

"If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer," advises Koplewicz.

"Children find great comfort in routines and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing."

Be Aware Of Little Ears

"Don’t have big discussions about the current issues of the day in front of children," advises Gummer.

"The rule of thumb is to either talk to your children about it and allow them to ask questions and involve them in the discussions in an age appropriate way or don’t talk about it in front of them.

"They get really scared when they hear grown ups having a conversation about something that sounds really scary, it’s like kids sitting at the top of the stairs hearing their parents arguing."

Frame The Information In Positives

You don't won't your children to walk away from the conversation feeling scared so Hill advises, "try to make your overriding message to your children a positive one.

"Talk to them about acts of bravery and heroism and overall, encourage them to always be kind to others."

Child therapist Natasha Daniels agrees: "During tragedies, focus on the random acts of kindness and the unity the situation brings out in others," she writes in a blog for The Huffington Post.

And Finally...

"When faced with the worst we need to turn towards the best," advises therapist Alyson Jones in a Huffington Post blog

"Give your children a hug, let them know that they are loved and you are there for them."

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