Although we don’t watch a ton of TV in our home, we usually turn it on during the Today Show or evening news hours. Since my son was little, I’ve regularly fielded heavy questions that come from seeing our world’s scary affairs. But, last week’s attacks in Paris seem to be getting thru to him a little more than normal. Last night, he even told me he was going to sleep with his Nerf gun “in case any bad guys came.” Yikes.
So, I spent the weekend researching and thinking about how to talk to kids about terrorism. Although, I’m no expert on child psychology, I wanted to share some highlights from my own research and conversations with other parents:
- Don’t Avoid the Topic – It’s natural to want to shut off the TV and try to shield your kids from the tragic events. However, it’s likely your kids are still going to hear about it- from school, from friends. Try to set your own tone on the tragedy instead of letting other people inform your kids. (Note that with younger preschool age children, it’s hard to differentiate fact and fiction and avoidance for the youngest children is acceptable.)
- Be Positive – Although the details are incredibly dire, skim the surface. Focus on how small the odds are of something happening here in your own backyard. The bad guys are a small minority of the entire world population.
- Focus On Keeping Everyone Safe – If you see the events playing out in imaginary play, (for example, a Lincoln Log village gets “bombed”), talk about the cleanup efforts to rebuild and move forward. (“Time to rebuild that house so everyone will have a new home!”)
- Don’t Dismiss Their Fears – “Yes, the incident IS scary.” Validate their concerns (heck, it scares me, too), but then move on. Divert the topic to making them feel safe.
- Listen – Ask the kids what they already heard. Try not to introduce too much information, but fill in gaps with the older children who already know the basic facts.
- Focus on Community Helpers – Reassure children that there are a lot of people who work every day to keep our country safe. Put the spotlight on our military and police officers and even the president. Remind them that mom and dad’s first job is to keep the family safe.
- Know When To Turn It Off – Although it might be okay to get the daily headlines, there’s no need to linger on any of these subjects. The cable shows will happily go wall-to-wall for hours on the topic. If you want to dig deep and learn more, save that time for when the kids are away. Overexposure to violent images isn’t productive or helpful.
Terrorism and war isn’t easy for anybody to conceptualize, young or old. Providing a safe environment where children feel comfortable sharing their fears is helpful, but try to move on after delicately directing the subject. Reminding children about all the good that happens in their own life can help outweigh the hard news of which they’ve been exposed.