How to Talk with Your Kids about Terrorist Attacks

parent and kid

After the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, England, you may be wondering how to talk with your kids about these incidents. Depending on the age of your children, you may question if it’s even necessary. Unfortunately, we live in an age when kids see and hear about these horrific events almost as they are happening—and often without a parent nearby. Even worse, these incidents are rapidly becoming commonplace.

It would be easy to think that your child is okay if he or she doesn’t openly appear to be upset. But it’s important to know that even if your child isn’t saying anything, he or she may be confused, frightened and anxious about what’s happening.

If your child is six years or older, you should talk with him or her about these events. It’s better if your child gets the facts from you rather than hearing someone else’s version of the story—which may or may not be accurate and could be delivered in an insensitive manner.

If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, the following tips should help:

  • Listen to your child’s perspective. Find out what your child knows about the incident and how it makes him or her feel. That should be the starting point for any conversation. Children in late elementary school and middle school may be feeling anxious. Hearing the story from a parent or loving caregiver helps to eliminate some of that anxiety. It’s not necessary to share all the details about terrorism in the world. Your goal should be to make your child feel safe and secure.
  • Don’t assume your kids will just get over it. Just because your child isn’t asking questions, that doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal. Again, start the conversation by finding out what your child already knows. If your son or daughter is genuinely frightened and upset over the incident, the last thing you want to do is dismiss those feelings. Doing so could mean that your child won’t turn to you in the future, and you want to keep the dialogue open.
  • Use this time to connect with your child. When talking with older children, be sure to also focus on the bigger messages, including the fact that the overwhelmingly majority of people in the world are good. Reassure your child that he or she is surrounded by individuals who are there to protect us from harm—teachers, parents, police officers, coaches, babysitters and more. Share heartwarming stories of people helping other people.

This is not an easy conversation for any parent, and frankly, most of us never anticipated the need to discuss terrorism with our children. Since many of the Manchester victims were quite young, the topic is now more sensitive than ever. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open so you know how your kids are processing what they see and hear.

Don’t wait. Talk with your child today.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.