The bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester is all the more horrible and deeply troubling because the target was an arena filled with adolescents and children of all ages. Parents all over the world are left tongue tied when needing to answer what happened, why it happened, and will it happen to me.
I have written about how to talk to children about terror attacks too many times. With a heavy heart, I remind you of the following tips:
- Your children are watching you. You need to be aware of your reactions and the feelings you are experiencing and leaking. Before you can talk with your child, you must have your own emotions under control.
- Do your best to control the media input in your home. These days so many children have access to the internet, tablets and phones, that it can be difficult to limit exposure. But do your best to turn off the television, the news, the car radio. Be aware of what they are seeing on their devices.
- Your primary job is to be available to your children. Stay home and stick around. “Circle the wagons,” as I am known to say. Allow whatever is on your child’s mind to surface in a calm and peaceful environment void of rushing in and out.
- You have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Use them accordingly. Listen and watch for signs of distress or discomfort in your child or that this tragedy is on his mind.
- You do not have to bring up the issue. Wait until your child brings up his questions or comments to you. No reason to create a problem that doesn’t exist…yet.
- If/when your child comes to you, give him your full attention. Devices down! Regardless of what he says or asks, your job is first to find out what he knows or has heard. You might say, “Tell me what you heard about that.” You do not want to give more information than what he has asked.
- Your response to your child depends upon his age and development. You know your child best. You know how much he can handle or how much you need to tone it down. And try not to have this conversation at bedtime.
- By all means, tell your child the truth, answering just what he has asked and no more. “Yes. There was a terrorist attack in Manchester, and there were people killed. It was horrible.” Or “Yes. I did hear that an 8 year old child died. It is so terrible. ” Of course you can show your sadness, but don’t overdo it. Leave space for your child to react in his own way. And beware of revealing your fear.
- Different children will process the horror of such an event differently. Some will ask more and more questions; some will be more internal. But you need to remain available to be the caring, safe parent and listener who will always be there to talk, answer his questions, tell him the truth, and reassure him.
- Children, especially elementary school age children, need to be reminded that this act is unusual. As hard as it is for us to believe this right now, we do live in a safe world. As a result of the lightning speed with which we are fed the news via the internet, it seems like acts of terrorism regularly occur and they are close by. But for the sake of our children, we continue to tell them all the ways they are safe, all the people whose jobs it is to keep them safe, all the measures we have to keep us all safe. They need to know that most people are good people who do not hurt others. The young terrorist who allegedly perpetrated this horrific event is the exception.
- Children will ask, “Why did he do that?” What a difficult question. It is okay to say that you don’t know why he did that when you don’t know why. But as they grow up children upper elementary, middle, and high school, you can continue the conversation you have no doubt already started about terrorism. “There are people who are fiercely angry that everyone doesn’t believe what they want them to believe. Sometimes it’s about religion; sometimes it’s about the way the government is run. They try to make their point by terrifying or terrorizing others,” explaining that terror means frighten. “It is a kind of extreme bullying.”
(Please see the chapter “Is the First Going to Come to Our House?” in my book JUST TELL ME WHAT TO SAY for more scripts and answers you can adapt to your particular younger child.)
- A healthy distraction to a tragic event is to come together with others to give back. In times like these, finding ways to be a helping community, doing volunteer work, is a really good antidote to sadness and fear.