How to talk to children about terrorist attacks

Talk about the news

Those who specialise in children trauma advise families should not shy away from talking about terror attacks.

“Give children basic facts, tell them what it is they want to know, ask them what they would like to know and then give them access to that,”

“Support them and comfort them and be there for them, hug them, cry with them if they’re crying, just respond to how they’re responding emotionally.

“Take the lead from them – we need to know what it is they want answers to.”

Should I turn off the television?

The reality is that we live in an online world if young people don’t access the news at home they will access it at school.
“Parents can’t shield children from these events completely,”. “The reality is that children and young people are bombarded by 24/7 news.”

“Trying to hide the news isn’t helpful because they’ll hear about it elsewhere and parents won’t then be there to take them through it.”

‘Avoid nasty details’

Avoid the nasty details, there is no need to discuss them, they’re unnecessary.
“You don’t want to be describing the scene, describing the bloodshed, describing what it looked like, showing them images – I would be avoiding all of that, because that can traumatise the child.”
“Tell your young person not to go scouring the internet for all the inside stories, it’s just not necessary – we need to protect our young people as well.”

Helpful phrases

Use reassuring phrases:

This is a very rare occurrence’, ‘It’s absolutely awful, but thank goodness it’s extremely rare’, and ‘Security is going to be tightened even more’, are really reassuring.

If faced with the question, “Could this happen again”?

“I would be saying, ‘Of course it could’ – and don’t lie about that – ‘But it’s very unlikely, these are very, very rare events and we are sure the police are going to up security even more.

“‘It’ll be absolutely fine to still go to your football or your netball, it’ll be absolutely fine to still go on your scout camp’, or whatever it is they do.

“‘We have to to carry on living our lives in a normal way and not be cowed by these bad people.'”

Will teachers talk about events?

“If students want to talk, teachers will let them ask questions and they will be talking to them about how they can look at appropriate, reliable sources for information.”

How would I know if my child was traumatised?

The signs of trauma depend very much on the individual, however, symptoms to watch for include:

  • child becoming fearful, clingy and anxious
  • bedwetting
  • child becoming preoccupied with thoughts and memories
  • being unable to concentrate
  • becoming irritable and disobedient
  • physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach-aches

If you are concerned about your child and think he or she is traumatised by events in the news, you can approach your GP.

If the problems go on, the doctor may suggest accessing some extra help from the local child and adolescent mental health service (Camhs).


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