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How To Talk With Your Children About Acts Of Terrorism

Following the horrific terrorist act in Manchester that has claimed the lives of at least twenty-two people following a concert by singer Ariana Grande, parents of young children may be wondering how they help their children process the news and deal with any questions they may have.

Quartz have produced an in-depth guide to assist parents in helping their kids process what they have seen and heard on the news and around the dinner table.

Child psychology experts say that when it comes to dealing with kids aged around six years and older, the best time to start a conversation is now.

If parents don’t frame the attack in Manchester for their children, then their own vivid imaginations or some other kid on the playground will.

If that happens then there is no guarantee that the framing will be accurate, age-appropriate, or thoughtful enough to teach a young person something useful.

Starting a conversation - no matter how basic - will send the message that you will always speak openly with them and that all questions are welcome.

Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, told Time:

“Don’t delay telling your children,” 

“It’s very likely that your child will hear about what happened, and it’s best that it comes from you so that you are able to answer any questions, convey the facts, and set the emotional tone.”

High school kids are both easier and harder to approach. 

They will have been inundated with videos and stories on social media, so parents will need to find the best time and place to discuss the issues surrounding it including topics such as racism, religion, extremism, ethics and even politics.

When speaking with younger, school-aged children, parents will need to offer age-appropriate information and stay calm.

Kids need control and parents can help in validating their feelings.

The worst thing to say to a child who says: “I am scared” is to reply, “there is no reason to be scared.”

Parents should acknowledge their fear or sadness but then look for ways to help make them feel safe.

Ellen Hendriksen on Savvy Psychologist says:

“If they’re scared, say ‘Lots of kids and even adults feel scared. That was scary,”

"Acknowledging your own fear, or sadness, shows it is okay to be scared. If you dismiss the fear, kids will feel dismissed and learn you’re not someone who’s safe to talk to,”

Another recommended practice is to ask open-ended questions.

While more information is considered better than no information,  too much information can be quite overwhelming.

Ask your kids “what have you heard about what happened in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert?” and then let them talk.

If they have nothing to offer you can choose whether to fill in the void so they have a grounding if it should come up later.

“For kids this age [6-11], knowledge can be empowering and helps relieve anxiety,” Koplewicz told Time.

But refrain from a history of ISIL.

“Leave out details that may create increased fear or compromise your child’s sense of safety,” writes Ritamaria Laird, an expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago.

“Remember, your main goal is to convey a sense of security for your child. Listen to your child and provide information based on your child’s questions.”

Remind them about the security all around them

Young kids love learning about the police because they inherently believe and trust in authority.

Remind them of all the people in their lives who protect them: teachers, babysitters, grandparents, police, security guards and soldiers.

If they should become scared to leave you, talk about any time you've been separated and then reunited.

Ask what makes them feel safe. Listen.

Talk about their heroes to counterbalance stories of terrorism.

Teach them the broad lesson they need to learn Kids love to see the world being divided into good guys and bad guys.

After an event such as Manchester, it is important to contextualize the bad guys for what they are: a tiny minority.

While most of us would prefer to keep reality at bay for as long as possible, unfortunately in this day and age, we can't.

Our kids know a lot more than we realize, and they need us to make sense of nonsensical things.


In light of media reports about the tragedy in Manchester, Kids Helpline would like to remind Australians that the Kids Helpline Service is available to children experiencing anxiety.

Kids Helpline is Australia’s only national 24/7 counselling and support service, specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years.

www.kidshelp.com.au or free call 1800 55 1800

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