How do you discuss terrorism and crime with children?

It’s been a particularly harrowing week. Between the bombing of a refugee bus convoy in Syria and the attack at a concert in Manchester, England, the international news has been full of tragic and distressing realities. It’s hard enough to process these events as an adult. Trying to make sense of the loss and pain that has been caused to innocent people, many of whom were young children, is in many ways impossible.   It just doesn’t make any sense. Sadly, that doesn’t take away from the fact that families have been exposed to the worst kind of pain and will be forever changed by the events of this last week.

Knowing how and when to discuss disturbing news stories with our children can be challenging but in a day and age where media is so easily accessible it’s not always possible (or even wise) to keep them uninformed.

Wake-up call

My eldest daughter recently came home from school and recounted several news topics that had been discussed in class. Our local press has been covering a number of high-profile child murders and cases of violence against women and her teacher decided to talk about these things in school. My daughter is nine and doesn’t have very much access to the news or any interaction on social media. I was surprised when she started to tell me what she had learnt because I didn’t expect her to have been exposed to such mature topics.

It’s safe to say that often on this parenting journey whether we’re ready or not, things happen that we have to deal with.  So how do we best protect our children and maintain their sense of security when the events in the news are so hard to digest?

Too much information?

Experts seem to agree that ignoring the issues of violent crime and terrorism can cause more harm than good. The reason is that children will pick up information from somewhere and unless their source is accurate and measured, the story they hear can be confusing and magnify the threat to their own safety. When you decide to address events in the news remember to be age appropriate and consider the sensitivity level of your child. Young children (under the age of 7) will have very little understanding about the context of things like terrorist attacks and you could end up causing anxiety that is both unintended and unnecessary.   Likewise a more fearful or sensitive individual may well struggle with too much information and be distressed at the thought of bad people doing bad things.

Be aware that a once off chat about something like the Manchester attack may not be enough. On going questions or fears may surface further down the line and it’s important that you are able to talk through these things as they arise. Discussing how your child feels about the things that are happening helps them to learn how to deal with the complex emotions that tragedies can cause.   It’s also important that you are able to reassure them and help calm any worries they may have. Yes, terrible things happen but so do good things and there are many more good people than bad.

The most important thing for any parent when discussing crime or terrorism is that your reaction will set the tone for your child. If you react with panic you will add to their fears but if you are calm and sensible about the things that are happening your family is more likely to follow suit.

Don’t be afraid

The truth is that we live in a world where very bad things happen everyday. As much as we as parents would wish to shelter and protect our children from this reality at some stage they will be faced with the harsh and ugly truth that people are capable of terrible crimes and sometimes cause unimaginable pain.  It’s been repeated a few times in the press and on social media but this quote by Fred Rogers bears repeating:

 “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The Bible tells us that bad things happen and that this shouldn’t surprise us. It also says that we shouldn’t be afraid because God is ultimately in control. If we focus on the terrible and evil things in this world, the picture is very bleak but if we pay attention to what is good and support what is right we will overcome.

“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” – Romans 12:21

 

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