5 ways to help your children deal with acts of terrorism
How we wish we could shield our children from every terrible story and event out there. Or better yet, why can’t we just live in a world where these things just never happen. Ever.
But we live in a world where these things do happen. A world where our children are going to catch glimpse of violence and terrorism, both close to home and far away.
As an adult, these acts of senseless violence and terrorism are difficult enough for us to wrap our head around. For a child they are downright frightening and very confusing. What is a terrorist? Why do they want to hurt people? Why are black/whites/Muslims/Christians/children targeted?
As a parent, how can you help your children make sense of these events and explain it in such a way that they don’t think the world is always a scary and bad place?
It can be difficult to find that balance between alleviating your children’s fears and making those fears worse. In our experience, the best way parents can help their child is by doing these five things.
1. Be honest
The last thing any parent wants to do is to tell the truth about a terrorist attack or random act of violence. What we want to do is shield them from this knowledge. Don’t! If your children ask about an event, tell them what happened. You don’t have to go into every detail, but hearing it from you instead of a stranger will help the event seem less scary. The worse thing you can do is to make up stories or pretend that it didn’t happen because your child will inevitably come across the story somewhere. In a world that is uncertain, your children need to know they can trust what you tell them to be true.
2. Don’t over share
Truthfully answer your child’s questions, but don’t give them more details than they can handle or asked for. Your 5-year-old doesn’t need to know more there was a bad person who did something bad for a mass shooting. Like adults, children worry about things they don’t understand or can’t process. Keep your information on your child’s level. As you explain, use the skill of Effective Communication to make sure your children understand what you are telling them and don’t leave with more questions than answers.
3. Point out the good
When something terrible happens it can be easy for our children to believe the world is a bad place made up of bad people and need to be reminded of the truth that the world is made up of mostly good people and good things. Make it a point to share the stories of kindness and heroism from the event. Don’t stop there. Be even more vigilant in pointing out the good thing your children experience closer to home on a daily basis: the teenage boy who took back a stranger’s grocery cart, the kid at the playground who invited someone new to play, the grandpa who held the door for them. Encouraging your children to focus more on the good they see than the bad is helpful in reminding them not to be scared of the world they are growing up in while teaching them love, kindness, and understanding is the best way discourage hate, anger, and violence.
4. Listen to them
Have you ever had to just talk through something so you could understand it? When something terrible happens, your child is trying are to process something they don’t understand and they need a safe place to work through their concerns. Your children need to know they are able to come to you with concerns and worries and that you’ll actively
listen, take those concerns seriously, and validate their feelings while working to help them understand and process what they are dealing with.
Often, our children want to talk at the most inopportune time. Don’t brush off the opportunity if that happens. The fact that they have sought you out, means that they have reached a point where they are ready to finally talk about their feelings. Even if it’s inconvenient, pause and listen. Come back to the conversation at a later time if you have to, but give them a few minutes. The fact that you took the time to listen will reinforce to your children that they can come to you about anything at anytime and you will listen.
5. Encourage them to work through their feelings
When we don’t understand something it is easy to keep those feelings and thoughts to ourselves. It’s important that we encourage our children to find ways to cope with those things that seem scary or confusing. Every child is going to cope and process those events in a different way. Some children may need to talk or write about their feelings, some may need to create something beautiful, while, others may need to connect with friends and family. If your children don’t know the best way to cope, give them opportunities to try different methods until they find what works best for them.
If you’re children are able to cope with tragedies in a healthy way that allows them to see these events as actions of disturbed men and women, instead of offering hate or violence, they will be able to offer compassion and hope and make the future a much better place.
We will never be fully able to shield our children from the terrible things that happen around them, but, we can do our best to help them understand and feel safe despite the craziness that is happening.
Have any other ways to help your children cope? Leave us a message below.