How do we explain terrorism to children?

UPDATED 23/5/17

Terrorism is something as adults we can barely understand ourselves. The rationality behind driving a car into innocent people or targeting an arena full of children and teenagers is incomprehensible.

In the aftermath of the Westminster attacks in March and last night's brutal attack on a concert in Manchester Arena where 21,000 people were targeted many of those teenagers and children, it can be difficult to keep children away from what has happened. How do we explain it to children? How do we educate them to make sense of such tragedies?

Here are a few things you can do to help them understand:

  1. Reassure their safety: Make sure children know they are safe, and not under any threat.
  2. Don’t turn the news off:  Don’t shy away from the news, if they don’t listen/watch they will be exposed in some way and you will not be with them to answer their potential questions.
  3. Use child-friendly language: The younger the child, the more you will have to break it down. Be honest and patient and use language to help them process the situation and not confuse them more. They will have questions too.
  4. Child-friendly news sources: Newsround and First News Live! are aimed specifically at children and therefore the content will be adapted to their sensitivities.

Winston's Wish, a charity for bereaved children, has compiled a list of tips advising parents on the best way to approach the subject.

The charity also points out that the next few days might be more difficult as images of people grieving will be shown on the television, which can be upsetting for children and might trigger more questions.

How do you tell them?

The charity advises: "The explanation can be basic, especially for young children – something like: 'All this news is because something very bad and very sad happened in Westminster, London.

"What seems to have happened is that someone attacked other people near the Houses of Parliament; a policeman was killed in the incident."

"It is very unusual that something like this happens. This is one of the reasons why it is on the news and lots of people are talking about it; it is also because it is very upsetting that something like this could happen."

What if they ask why it happened?

If the children want to know ‘why?’ you could say something like:

"No-one can completely know why. We know it wasn’t an accident. It’s so, so difficult to understand why anyone would be so cruel to kill other people."

Things to remember:

  • Talk to children using words they understand; give information to younger children a bit at a time
  • OTry and encourage children to ask questions
  • Answer questions honestly and simply; talking about it won’t make it worse
  • Accept that some things can’t be ‘made better’
  • Show willingness to talk about difficult things and use this as an opportunity to reassure them
  • If children are asking questions, it is a good thing – it shows they trust you and it is better than keeping questions and worries to themselves
  • Remember that ‘super parents’ or ‘super teachers’ don’t exist. Just do and say what you can
  • Don’t be afraid to show children how you are feeling

For more advice on how to explain this or any other difficult topic to children, visit the Winston's Wish website.

Comments are closed