We are all still reeling from the recent terrorist attacks at six different locations in France. While Paris has gained much attention on social media and in the news, recent terrorist attacks have also occurred in Lebanon and Turkey.
I have been speaking to several parents about the responses they are hearing from their children, with regards to the events. Commonly I am hearing that children, particularly teenagers, are responding with concern and fear.
Hopefully we are all aware that increased exposure to television news, in particular, at times such as this will present a particular perspective on these events.
Clearly the events are horrific and should be portrayed as such. However, if children are over-exposed to footage or images from the events we know that vicarious trauma can sometimes occur. This happens when we hear or see images from a particular traumatic event, and have a reaction comparable to that of someone who actually experienced the trauma firsthand.
Here are some things to consider when listening or talking to your child about terrorism:
Consider your own emotional response.
Try to stay calm when speaking or listening to your children. Remember that parents are the most important role models for their children.
We want to model healthy emotional responses to this event. If these events sadden you, show that sadness! Your kids may become sad as well. If these events make you anxious, you will likely model that response to your child. If you respond by praying, your children will learn to respond by praying.
Explore where they're getting information from.
Kids are vulnerable. Watching TV news broadcasts or seeing news on the Internet will most likely result in a fear-based reaction. If your kids are to be told what is going on they need to know the important details, preferably without graphic or detailed storytelling.
If you are a parent who likes staying up to date with the headlines, it may be helpful to consider at what time of day you do this, and who is around. Exposing your child to frightening news headlines (whether you think they're old enough to hear it or not) could result in increased anxiety about the issues they see unfolding.
Think about whether they are missing important information that you can provide them with, and how they can hear information without getting overloaded and overwhelmed.
Listen and validate your child's emotions.
While we may see the situation differently, it is important to validate the way your child is feeling. Saying things like, 'I can see you're really upset by this' or 'You care a lot about these people being hurt, don't you?' can be really helpful, as opposed to downplaying or ignoring the way your child is feeling.
Encourage them to express their emotions in healthy ways.
Make sure your child understands the emotions they are experiencing. If you can, ask them to label the emotion they're feeling. They might find it helpful to channel their emotions into writing a letter. Encourage them to express their emotions in healthy ways, whether it involves getting creative, exercising, crying, talking to someone about it or listening to music.
Highlight the ways in which love is being shown.
The famous TV personality, Fred Rogers, once said, '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."'
Where we see great destruction, we often see hands at work to put the pieces back together. It is important that kids hear about this side of the story too. Stories of heroism, generosity and sacrifice are worth highlighting to your kids.
Explain why these events occur and be realistic about evil.
A lot of secular professionals that work with children would encourage parents to reassure your children that you are going to keep them safe and secure. Whilst this intention is true, and parents commonly do everything they can to keep their kids safe, the reality of our world is that evil does exist and there may come a day where we cannot shield our children from sudden death.
We are all sinful people and we all hurt others. Some people do things that hurt many people at once. Don't shy away from this truth. In the present case, it may be important (depending on your child's age) to take the opportunity to discuss and describe how terrorism works, and how it can be linked to people's religious beliefs.
Reassure your child that there are people assigned to help keep us safe.
It is important that your child knows the roles of governments, police, and other emergency services that work together to help keep us safe.
Keep in mind the realistic perspective that they cannot always prevent evil things from happening, it is still important to let them know that there are people whose job it is to help protect us.
Reassure your child that God is in control.
We believe in a sovereign God. We believe that God is not surprised by the events that unfold before us. Therefore, we have a responsibility to teach this to our kids, and help them to rest in the knowledge that God is in control.
No matter what happens to the world or to them, they can ultimately have hope through Jesus Christ. Ultimately, whether they live or die, they can have confidence that God is on their side.
Encourage them to pray, and pray with them.
Commonly, when we see a problem, we want to fix it. As Christians we believe that God cares about the things that we care about. The best way for your child to express their concerns about what is happening in the world is through prayer. We voice our concerns to God because we believe he is all-knowing and all-powerful.
Sarah Young is completing her Masters in Clinical Psychology and loves spending time engaging with young people. She spends her spare time writing songs, running and going on adventures with her husband, James.
Sarah Young's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-young.html