Talking About Terrorism
All trauma impacts children, and terrorism is a unique type of traumatic event. Like all trauma, it is sudden and unpredictable. Unlike all trauma, it is inherently violent. Individuals purposefully harm others, which makes it particularly hard to explain. And terrorism stresses the entire community - no one escapes being impacted, even our children.
WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY?
So how do we talk to our children? How do we know what’s right to say to a 5 year old? 9 year old? 14 year old? Each time we are confronted by terrorism the situation will be unique, and we will once again struggle with what to say. But there are some general tips that can help you navigate these conversations at any developmental stage:
· Answer questions, but especially with young ones, keep facts and details vague.
o It is important to answer children’s questions so that they feel heard, but we do them harm by telling them more than they can make sense of. It is always better to give too little information. It may, in fact, be enough to satisfy your child. Do not offer painful or disturbing details, but with older kids ask what they already know. Additionally, do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know” when that is the truest answer you have.
· Stress safety in all conversations. Remind children that they are safe, and that it is your job to protect them.
o Remember that, at their core, most children’s questions are truly asking one thing – Am I safe? Are the people I love safe? When your child asks, “Why did they have guns?” interpret this as a question about safety. “I don’t know why they used guns. But I know most people don’t have guns and they don’t use guns when they are angry.”