For the second time in four months we find ourselves offering advice on how to speak to children following the unthinkable - a terror attack on our own doorsteps. In February, on a busy weekday afternoon in the hub of London, a political institution was a target. This time, a packed music arena in vibrant Manchester, a night of celebration in music and an audience filled with children, young people and their parents.
In times like this, I'm often asked how to speak to children following an attack, how to explain, how to rationalise. In this case, it is so especially relevant when the attack has happened at an event targeted at children, and something they will be confronted with on the news, on social media, by their peers. I start with reminding parents and carers to stop for a moment and think about how the children are getting the "news". Our children are exposed to social media and therefore sensationalism and graphic images and video content. It is so important to consider this when remembering that, with this access, they are forming their own beliefs about the world outside. It's all so immediate, unfiltered and very visual. It's reactive and not planned or thought through. As we know, it's so hard to protect them from this online world, and my advice is not to restrict them, but process their feelings after seeing it. As responsible adults, we should really listen to what they are making of the happenings not just the sensationalism. Not just what their immediate thoughts are, but also the feelings evoked. As ever, my message is one of processing over time, after the initial trauma has sunk in.
In my opinion, following such extreme terrorist attacks we should be talking and listening, hearing with children and young people about death and the value of everyone's lives- but lives well lived without causing harm to others. Here is my guide on what to say to your children when confronted with tough questions after events such as today:
• Make sure you talk to children, explain what has happened, don't brush it under the carpet, they are going hear it at school/whispers/television. Better to hear it from a trusted adult.
•Use age appropriate, but finite language so that they understand what has happened. focus on the human good of the situation, the amazing help and support of the emergency services, the people who helped the injured and so on.
• Reassure them that they are safe.
• Don't tell them people are bad, but that some people have bad behaviours. Model good behaviour and explain the difference between right and wrong.
• Encourage them to ask questions, and always answer honestly. Keep conversations open for example, 'if you want to ask again that's Ok'
• Remember to consider the concepts of death. Children under 6 years old do not understand death so if you want to explain this to them, use terminology that lends itself - gone means gone forever, not just gone for one day.
• Reassure them this is a rare occurance and we live in a safe place.
• Remind them that there are lots of good, wonderful and peaceful people in the world.
• Reassure them that feelings are ok to feel - tell them 'I feel sad too. It's OK to cry.'
• Images on social media/ television need to be explained to children as images can be very frightening, it's important to talk through what children are using to form their own opinions.
• Look out for anxious behaviours e.g. not sleeping, panic, changes in personality and always contact a professional if you require further advice.
If you need further support or advice, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us at Grief Encounter, leading childhood bereavement charity, on firstname.lastname@example.org