Speaking to Children About Terrorism


The whole world has been rocked over the weekend by the horror of the attacks in Paris. As we’re grappling to come to terms with what has happened our children will also be starting to ask questions about why this is happening. I personally had a talk to my 15 year old in the car on the way to school this morning. While it can be difficult to talk, it is invaluable for our children, and can also help us work through our own reactions.

Here are some tips on how to approach talking to your children:


    • Don’t force them to speak, but make time when they are ready to speak. If at all possible stop what you are doing to give them your full attention.
    • Don’t be surprised if they are worried about family or friends who may have been in the area.
    • Help them find ways to express themselves that are appropriate for their age. Some children may be too young or not good at talking. Drawing, play or writing can give some good insights into what they are feeling, and they provide an opportunity for adults to ask questions like “how are you feeling about what’s happened?” You might not get an answer immediately, but the act of asking lets your child know that you are interested in how they feel.
  • Respond:


    • Always be honest. Children usually know if you’re not being honest, and you can do permanent harm to the trust relationship by not being honest. If you don’t have an answer, tell them that but help them find someone who does have the answer.
    • Use words and ideas that are appropriate for your child’s age and personality. Provide an answer, but don’t go further than you need to. If your child has more questions, let them ask. Otherwise you run the risk of overloading them.
    • Let your child know that you think their questions and concerns are important.
    • Be consistent and reassuring.
    • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
    • You may have to be a broken record, and repeat explanations. This is more likely if your child is very anxious, or the information is complex. Asking some questions repeatedly may be your child’s way of asking for reassurance.
    • Use the opportunity to teach tolerance and explain prejudice. It can be tempting to stereotype by race or religion. These stereotypes can be dangerous and are ultimately unhelpful.
    • Children look to adults as role models. They will notice how you respond when you are talking to other adults.
    • It is OK for children to know if you are worried, but let them know they don’t have to care for you.
    • If you don’t know how to respond, ask for help from others in your community.
  • Support:


    • Repetitive frightening news footage can be very disturbing, especially to young children. With access to the internet it is too easy to see too much. Make sure you limit the exposure and explain why you are limiting it.
    • Keep everything else in life as routine as possible. Children are reassured by predictable routines.
    • Discuss any concerns with teachers, especially if your children are in primary school.
    • Watch for possible preoccupation with violent movies or war theme video/computer games.
    • If you think that your child is becoming preoccupied or overly stressed seek professional help. Start by talking to your child’s school counsellor, your GP, or a psychologist.
    • Encourage talking when your child wants to talk, but give them space when they don’t. Don’t feel that they have to talk to be able to cope.


Dr Simon Kinsella