Helping Your School-Aged Child Make Sense of the Recent Terrorism Attacks

Helping Your School-Aged Child Make Sense of the Recent Terrorism Attacks

It has been a few weeks since the terrorist attacks in Paris, and the media coverage on the aftermath continues on a daily basis. Parents often wonder how to help their children make sense of such horrifying events, particularly if they have already been exposed to some news coverage or social media.

As a general rule, I would recommend leaving the TV off during the news hour so that children are not unnecessarily taking in graphic content that may be frightening or disturbing to them.

Children under age six are best off not knowing about these events. They are much less likely to be hear or see any details of these events and there is no need to discuss this with them, unless they are directly affected by the event or have already heard about it.

School-aged children are more likely to hear about big world events, includ-ing terrorist attacks. This can happen in a myriad of ways, whether through friends at school, viewing a news article or photo on the Internet or around the dinner table when older siblings may be inquiring about the bombings. The urge may be to shield your child from the entire event. This instinct is something many parents grapple with and is worth paying attention to. In my practice with families, I remind parents that they know their child best and that it is worthwhile listening to this instinct. You know what your child’s distress tolerance is and if you determine that your child has no knowledge of the events yet, it may be just fine to shield them from hearing about it (at least for the time being).

If your school-aged child has already heard about it, you can take this as an opportunity to be your child’s compass point in the process of making sense of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Here are some points to consider:

  • If you can initiate a conversation with your school-aged child, this would be ideal, because it allows you to set the stage and provide simple facts. It also means that if your child hears erroneous details at school, they will recall what they have been told by you and can come back and process this with you.
  • Less detail is better than more. Try to gauge what your child may know already and fill in gaps where needed. A clear, simple narrative is adequate.
  • Give your child the time and space to express all their feelings. You can reassure them that feelings are neither good nor bad, but that feelings just are. It is totally normal to be sad, scared, angry, indifferent or what-ever else your child may be feeling. The important thing is that your child will benefit from your kind and strong presence as they process.
  • Your child will need to hear a sense of confidence in your voice as you convey to them that they are safe with you. While terrible things have happened far away from home here in Canada, they will benefit from being reassured that their world is safe.
  • It is very likely that their primary concern will be their own (and their family’s safety. Your child may need to hear your reassurance but may not articulate this need to you. Listen to your child and read between the lines what they may be most concerned about.
  • Emphasize the good that is happening after the attacks. You can describe the helpers (neighbours, medical professionals, community centres) and the efforts to ‘catch the bad guys’.
  • Lastly, with the holidays around the corner, there may be a variety of ways to “give back” within your own community. Finding tangible and creative ways for you and your child to be altruistic together, can be real reminders of all the good that exists in our world.

Nathalie Scott MSW, RSW, RPT

Read other articles of Discovering Treasures in the School Aged Years

3 Comments

  • Kenneth | 2015.12.09 at 9:47 PM

    Mindy Alyse Weiss

  • Ellenherreracochrane | 2015.12.10 at 8:38 PM

    Great advice to parents to consider in their dealings with their children in these horrific times of terrorisme attacks!
    Thanks, Nathalie. Love you, mama

  • eproncio | 2016.01.31 at 7:35 AM

    Parents often wonder how to help their children make sense of such horrifying events, particularly if they have already been exposed to some news coverage or social media. Where did you get this information?