Guest post: How do I talk to my children about terror attacks?
As the Manchester Arena terror attack dominates the headlines, we revisit this guest post by Abby Boid. Writing after the November 2015 Paris attacks, she considered how to explain distressing news to her sons
Cogito Ergo Mum
Posted on: Mon 16-Nov-15 09:07:34
(58 comments )
When we saw the headlines, my husband and I barely spoke. The boys knew nothing about it; they just wondered why their mother was so quiet. Quietly, we hushed the radio, turned off the news, and put our phones to one side, so that my children wouldn't have to hear what had happened.
At four, five, and seven, I don't want their impression of the world beyond the end of their street to be one of horror. Little boys raised in an atmosphere of terror seem likely, in my experience, to grow into men full of rage. So I convince myself that when they are old enough to understand, we'll talk about it.
But what is the 'right' age? Even now, I don't feel old enough to deal with this, and I don't have the words to explain. So I stay quiet.
Then I start to worry. What if they hear snippets of conversations in the playground at school that leave them confused or scared? Worse still, perhaps my silence will leave a gap for opportunists to fill with their own vested interests and bitter ideals. We need to talk about this.
Perhaps I shoud leave the news on, and prepare to field their questions. But to try to explain the horrors of the world via raw footage of events means giving up the small amount of control I have over this horrific situation.
Perhaps I should just leave the news on, and prepare to field their questions? But to try to explain the horrors of the world via raw and real footage of events means giving up the small amount of control I have over this horrific situation. The children need someone to tell them what is happening who understands exactly the sort of things they need to hear. They need me.
I decide that I won't discuss the disturbing details with them, but I won't let the terror attacks pass unmentioned. We will talk. I will hold them close, I will tell them they are loved. We'll talk in concepts they can understand: that kid called Sam who ruined their friends's birthday - does that mean all kids called Sam ruin parties?
That time the four-year-old hit the five-year-old. Should the bigger boy have hit him back? And how hard?
That big boy at school who they were afraid of. Do they remember when the seven-year-old pulled a face in response to his threats, and everybody laughed? Do they recall how once they stopped being so afraid, he stopped being quite so powerful?
There are no right answers to these questions, but they will, at least, encourage us to talk. More importantly than that, it will encourage them to think; to work out for themselves how to process terrible news when I'm not around to cover their ears.
I won't pretend to have all the answers: I'll tell them I don't know why people do bad things, that I find it hard to explain - but that even when we don't know what to say, we can still talk.
I will help my children discuss what they think, before others start putting the words into their mouths.
By Abby Boid
My kids are still too little to understand any of it, but this is definitely a good way to approach it when they're bigger. Thanks!
Newsround did a good job covering the severity of the attacks but didn't mention any details. I made sure mine (9 & 7) watched it then we had a gentle chat. They know nothing about the public locations it happened in, I decided that really would frighten them.
My children are the same age - their school's policy for news stories of this kind has been that it is talked about, perhaps in assembly or by participating in a silence. This means that this weekend I did feel it necessary to discuss with them, since I didn't want it to be mediated entirely by school. I don't feel I did a very good job of it though.
Thank you for mentioning Newsround - I will watch it and see if I want to show it to my 4 year old.
He's at school (we're in Paris) and I don't want him just getting information there.
My DC are 11 and 9. They saw the headlines of the Sunday papers and asked me about what happened. I tried to explain as best I could but my 9 year old DS is such a worrier and I think its upset him. I've tried to reassure him as much as possible by saying we live in a safe area but he keeps asking if the terrorists are going to attack our mcountry - what can I say to that? I am terrified of the repercussions from all of this.
I framed it to point out all the good that was shown. Some bad people have hurt a lot of good people (mine are very young and good vs bad is what they understand) then moved on to saying things like look at those police officers, aren't we lucky to have the police to protect us. Look at those people putting down flowers, isn't that a nice thought. Aren't those people lucky we have such wonderful doctors and hospitals so that they can get made better. Yes it is scary and it is ok to say that, and let them know bad things happen. But I like to remind them that even in bad times there is a lot of good.
Why do you all only feel that you have to have this conversation now with your children? This wasn't the only atrocity to happen this year. It wasn't even the only atrocity this week. Have you really all never spoken about such matters with your children before?
Mine are 4 and 18 months. I still think they're a bit young for this info but as it happened in our city and they have been impacted more or less directly by it we've had to think about how to discuss it.
DS1 only has the concept of different countries because we visit his cousin in England.
cruikshank is now not as good a time as any?
I really struggle with the 'will it happen to me?' aspect. Like when a friend's 3 year old died this summer. Or when my friend died in January age 32.
I can edit the distressing details of the Paris attack - I can focus on more good people than bad, but how do I reassure them that our High Street isn't next?
MimiLaBonq1, I guess so, but I don't see what's so different compared to what happened in Kenya, or in Beirut, or in many other places prior to this that you would suddenly feel the need to talk to your children about ISIS if you had previously deemed it unimportant.
I would guess more of our children are familiar with and can relate to Paris than places further afield. I see our point as an adult but to children this is very close to home. Actually to most adults too. It isn't a question of placing more importance on what happens in france than in the Lebanon. But the fact remains that far more people are culturally closer to and more familiar with France or America or even Australia. I'm not saying this is right but it is true.
My children are French, this is their capital city. People we know we're involved though, thankfully, no-one we know was hurt or killed.
Cruikshank - it may be that it seems it is all getting closer to home.
Although i have been aware that this has been an ongoing concern for a while now, and as scary and worrying it has all been, i have never felt as fearful as i did when i heard the news of france.
I think people are slowly realising and trying to come to terms themselves that no where is really safe now, and that they are considering how it would be best to approach this subject to the children.
The London bombings happened a while ago though, didn't they, if you're thinking of places close to home? Ditto Madrid. Admittedly my kids were only babies or not even born then so I didn't talk about it with them, but they're certainly heard about them since and are now up to speed with what's been happening in Syria and why we've got a refugee crisis. We've also talked about the background to it all, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how they came about etc. I just find it a little incredible that with all of this stuff going on that our govts are up to their neck in and where people are dying in far greater numbers than has happened in Paris that people haven't discussed such matters with their children. I don't even remember making a conscious decision to do so - it's just kind of happened organically, since they are citizens of the world etc. As for how you do it, just pitch it age appropriately, the same as you would any other 'big' question. But I really don't see how these matters have never come up before and if so I guess you can count yourself lucky that your child wasn't born in Syria where you would have to have had conversations with them about how they can survive.
I wasnt dismissing your point cruikshank. I have been open and honest with my 11 year old. I have also discussed things reasonably with my 7 year olds questioning of things. Long before this happened in france. For as severe as things are, i think they should be made aware...in a reasonable way depending on age.
Ah, ok, fair enough then.
I suppose my beef isn't with people like you but with mumsnet choosing to put this 'Poor little Western princess' piece on here about how unbearably hard it is for women with fed, educated, healthy children to talk about an attack that isn't even the worst terrorist attack this year with their kids when there are millions of mothers across the world who live in daily fear for their children's lives, or whose only memento of their dead child is a toe hastily cut from a dismembered body, or a part of an arm rescued from a pyre set alight . It just seems utterly crass.
As others have said I felt I had no choice in telling my DC about this incident as I wanted to be able to tell them my way - I didn't want them hearing things in the playground or to hear it from a teacher who may not have had the time to explain and answer their questions.
This is the way that this terrorism has affected us all - it takes away innocence from my 4 year olds. Meaning they have to start to understand grown up problems way before it should be necessary and this makes me feel so sad for all those children who really live this scenario. They do not get the option of a diluted, child friendly version they have experienced the real horror of war and destruction.
Well I've discussed Syria and other places affected by war with my 5 year old over recent months, but I am not sure what to so about Paris.
Both the Charlie hebdo attacks and Fridays restaurant/concert attacks were right outside her grandparents and other family, though we live in the UK. She has played in those streets and marketplaces. I don't want her to hear on the grapevine but not sure how I can tell her and reassure her her family are safe given that it has now happened twice in the same place.
Our immediate family is safe though we were very anxious for them, friends of friends weren't so lucky. I think i will tell her what we've always said to her - we can't guarantee anything but there will always be people to help her and love her, and we have to seize all our chances of happiness and live as full a life as possible, and help other people do the same.
Cruik my ds is only 4. He will be 5 in January. He understands that there are wars going on and children scared and hungry and people who aren't kind and who do horrible things. The last weekend of terrorist acts is the first time I have felt that he may be old enough to be told a little about the attacks.
I didn't mention any particular place to him, just the bare bones of it being very sad that lots of people have died and also how the police and doctors helped everyone they could.
I do agree with you though that we horribly disregard the lives of some people in favour of others. I think the previous poster who talked about how close to home for children it is in Paris is correct though. It is more likely to be somewhere they have been or might go so more likely to require proper age appropriate explanation in case they hear from other sources. As adults we should be past this but sadly many people do seem to value European lives over African or Asian people's lives.
I also am bewildered every time something happens that our news focus so much on how many Britons were involved. I really hate that they emphasise that like it is important.
When my DH was in Afghanistan last time, our nephew was 3, and kept asking over and over where Uncle Sparkly was and why was Aunty Sparkly so sad all the time. I kept avoiding the questions, but then one night the news was on in my mums kitchen, and it was breaking news of explosions and the like, and people in military uniform were shown. Of course DN pipes up "Uncle Sparkly wears those clothes! Is Uncle Sparkly hurting?!". So I gently told him that Uncle Sparkly wasn't hurt, but he was in a hot place, making sure some very bad people don't hurt any more good people, and he would be home just in time for Santa. That seemed to be enough. He still didn't like seeing people in uniform on the news, but did tell his nursery teachers and anyone else who would listen that his Uncle Sparkly was being a superhero in a hot country.
I think kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. We don't need to explain finer details of horrible things. I think they do need to know that there are bad people that do bad things, but there are also very good people around to stop the bad people and keep us safe.
Cruikshank although I agree with your criticism of the piece and of Eurocentricity in general, I take issue with being included in your "you all" accusation upthread. Yes I have spoken with my children about such things before thanks, as much as I think is appropriate for their level of comprehension and wellbeing, and as it happens their school are pretty global in their outlook. The point here was that, unlike talking to them about e.g. Kenya or Beirut, which I can do in my own way and at a time when they can be receptive, in this case the event's greater prominence in the UK media - which of course we are right to question - will ensure coverage in school which requires me to pre-empt that.
Good Guardian article here:
You are presuming that your children will be swayed by racism or xenophobia and they are not - whether you tell your DC now about Paris or later it will not sway their world-view. I think this article is basically an exercise in invented-hysteria. You are imagining something that does not exist. You are praising yourself for having that "right-on" conversation about "good and bad Islam" - this is wrong and terribly misguided in my opinion. If you put the thought out there (however well meaning) you are basically sowing the seeds for the arguments that racists and xenophobes make. Keep your DC innocent, stop listening to the radio when inappropriate news content could occur and stop wringing your hands and imaging that you can control everything.