Talking to kids about the London terrorism attack
RACHEL DOHERTY
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
The terrorism attack in London may have children asking questions parents find difficult to answer. Here’s how to keep the fear at bay.

Tragedies based on hate and difference aren’t always easy to explain, even to ourselves. There’s so many levels of injustice in our world that we often don’t even see them. But all these rise to the surface when innocent people lose their lives in a terror attack, like the one in London.

In a previous article I wrote after the Orlando shootings in 2016, I pointed out three things parents can do to help overcome hate in this world. And after the Dreamworld accident in Australia where four people lost their lives at a popular theme park, I put together some ideas for talking to kids about tragedy.

But terrorism is a different type of tragedy. It’s has that word terror at the core, and it’s all about fear.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT

I’m sure the people that cause these events are more interested in the longer term fear they create than the immediate damage they cause. What better way to win the war for people’s minds than to change their behaviours through fear.

If you’re wondering what to say, or what to let your kids watch, the best place to start is with your own thoughts and feelings.

Deciding how much to take in

Depending on the age of your kids, their knowledge of a terrorist attack may be beyond your control. Little children might be at your mercy when it comes to what they watch on television, or pick up from the radio. But tweens and teens will hear it from more sources. In the playground, from teachers or friends, on social media or from their own online news sites.

At the end of the day, we all need to take charge of how much we take in when it comes to a tragedy.

It’s a bit like watching Air Crash Investigators. I can’t stand watching the show because it makes me fearful of getting in a plane. There have been a few times I’ve broken out in a sweat as I put my seatbelt on. I can start to panic and think through what my family will do if I die.

But my husband loves the show. He find the research behind it fascinating and likes to see how the investigation leads to new approaches that make aviation even safer.

There are two things going on here. While I’m caught up developing an anxiety or fear about what might happen, my husband develops a greater faith in what’s less likely to happen.

As adults, we need to know what our own off switch is. To know when enough is enough, and to own up to how information makes us feel and think.

If you let your kids see and hear things about a terrorist attack, give them an opportunity to think about it too. If they stumble on it by accident, go looking for that thinking. Welcome their questions without feeling like you have to have all the answers.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

Talking to kids about a terrorism attack With any tragedy, most adults feel they need to tell all or avoid talking about it all together. But the better approach is to find a middle ground, especially when it comes to terrorism.

Terrorism is a deliberate act, not an accident. We need to help our kids see this, helping them process what that means for their life today.

Having older kids, I know they’ve heard about the London terrorism attack. So I’m not going to shy away from talking to them about it, but it’s important not to make it a bigger deal than it needs to be either.

Here’s an approach that works for me:

  1. Talk together. The worst thing about news is when it’s based on half truths or rumours. If your kids have been in class all day, or are getting their information from social media, it might not be accurate. Learn the basics and then sit down together and ask what people have heard. Having dinner at the table can be a good space to invite this conversation. Stick to the facts and let them ask questions, then move onto something more pleasant.
  1. Invite their questions. Kids are curious and are making sense of the world around them, so welcome their questions. Even if you don’t know the answers you can share your own thoughts and feelings. These questions might come straight away, but they might pop up in a week or month’s time too.
  1. Let them know it’s normal to feel sad or scared. Our feelings are what make us human. Help kids to name their feelings and think about how these emotions might impact on what they do or say. Some kids will find it helpful to express those feeling through action, like drawing a picture, or writing a letter.
  1. Help them to resist the terror. Terrorist want us to fear what might happen. To limit our way of life out of anxiety. Our kids need to know that there are thousands of people working every day to keep our country safe. We need to put our faith in those people and make the most of our life, not hide ourselves away out of fear.
  1. Keep life normal. When tragedy strikes, we all face the temptation to change how we do things. But for our kids, they need to feel that the predictable patterns of life are still there. Children are far more resilient than we realise – just look at the children of Syria. But for kids to respond to the challenges of modern life, they’re looking for adults to lead the way.

For some kids a terrorist attack like the one in London can develop into a deeper fear. They might feel scared of visiting public places or catching public transport. They also might find separation from parents or siblings overwhelming. If a couple of weeks have passed and you see fear gaining a foothold, get help. Make an appointment to see your family doctor or a counsellor.

These terrorist attacks may seem like a modern problem, but for most of the world, they’ve been here all along. As parents, these events are a good reminder that life isn’t within our control. That we never know when our last day will be, or how that end might come. It makes that hug with your child or goodnight kiss so much more special. Don’t you think?

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