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How Do You Explain a Terrorist Attack to a Child?

29/03/2016 15:35 | Updated 29 March 2016

On the day after the terrible Paris attack of 13 November 2015, alike millions of other parents across the globe who were struggling to explain the horrific events of Friday night to their children, I had to face the very same task: since other children or the adults at school would probably talk about it, maybe even give scary details about what had happened, how on earth would I explain something like that to my small children?

So, I thought I would write something down as this is what I do for a living. I knew that, as a children's author, this would certainly be the most difficult piece I would ever have to write.

After hours trying to put into easy words various feelings and images I had seen and absorbed from TV footage and various internet reports, I eventually managed to write a text that I also illustrated with little people, the "Littlefaces", to bring my text to life and get my little ones to understand what I wanted them to understand.

Although they had not seen any actual footage of the events, my children seem to have understood most of what I explained in my text and loved the little illustrations. After a big bear hug, I suggested they put into drawings what they were feeling about the events. The result: some bad guys with guns, some people on the floor and a picture showing Paris on a huge map of France. Everything was coming out of their imagination, from what they had understood of my text and drawings.

Relieved by the way my children felt, I thought "This text could help other children and parents out there." I made a few changes and corrections because I wanted the text to be as specific and at the same time as general as possible, so that it could also apply to any child anywhere, because terrorism acts are not confined to one location only.

A book with little characters was thus born, "Littlefaces", which I hope will help parents talk with their children about their feelings when such terrible events take place.

Sometimes, what we imagine can be worse than what we actually see. That's why expressing our feeling through writing or drawing can help free our mind, and so, help us to move on.

If you are still unsure what to say or what to do to explain something like a terrorist attack to your children, do follow the NSPCC* advice to parents:

LISTEN.
Don't shy away from a conversation on a difficult subject
ASK.
Stimulate discussion by asking them how they think and feel about what they've heard
HONESTY.
Be truthful, don't make up lies or skirt around the reality of the situation
REASSURE.
Explain that these events are very rare
COMFORT.
Give them a hug and tell them that you will always be there to protect them and to keep them out of harm's way

"It is crucial that children can talk about their feelings following these senseless killings, and are given reassurance and support." (Peter Wanless, Chief executive of the NSPCC)

For more advice watch this video "How should you talk to your children about terrorism": www.thetimes.co.uk/nspcc/

Also, visit the NSPCC website: www.nspcc.org.uk

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"Littlefaces - Something bad happened... Let's talk about it!" is currently available on Amazon: in print and in eBook.

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(*The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is a charity campaigning and working in child protection in the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands.)

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