How to keep the terrorism conversation going with children

How to keep the terrorism conversation going with children [Photo: Dominique Feldwick-Davis via Pexels]
How to keep the terrorism conversation going with children
[Photo: Dominique Feldwick-Davis via Pexels]

Just two weeks ago we spoke to the experts about how to chat to your children about terrorism and upsetting things in the news.

It followed the Manchester attack in which 22 people lost their lives at an Ariana Grande concert, some as young as 8.

One of the main pieces of advice about talking to children about what had happened was to remind them that incidences like that are very rare.

But just two months earlier Westminster was also the scene of an attack and on Saturday night London was once again targeted when terrorists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before attacking people knives at nearby Borough Market. Seven people have died and at least 48 were injured, many of them seriously.

But while wrestling with our own fears about the seemingly increasing regularity of such attacks, it seems it’s getting trickier to impress upon little ones that attacks like Westminster, Manchester and now London Bridge are an unusual occurrence.

Having spoken to my own children about the previous two attacks, I found myself short of answers this morning when my daughter asked why bad things in the news are happening more and more.

So how do we continue to explain atrocities to little ones?

Yahoo Style UK spoke to the experts about keeping the terror conversation going…

Advise them that terror attacks are still rare

With round-the-clock news reports and three attacks on the UK in relatively quick succession, it’s not difficult to see why some children fear that attacks are becoming more common. But while it might involve grown ups having to squash their own fears, its important that children are reassured that incidences like those that happened at the weekend remain a rare occurrence.

“Children in this generation are exposed to much more than children were 30 years ago. There is a steeper maturity trajectory,” explains psychologist Robel Iyassu. “Although the London attacks and Manchester Arena bombing were quite recent, statistically they are still quite rare in terms of likelihood of regular occurrence.”

Children should be reminded that terrorism acts are rare [Photo: Josh Willink via Pexels]
Children should be reminded that terrorism acts are rare [Photo: Josh Willink via Pexels]

Explain the risks with child-friendly comparisons

If children do express fear about this happening to them or you Ronete Cohen, psychologist and psychotherapist from suggests explaining the risk to them. “Tell them the truth: these events are rare and you have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to get caught up in it. Illustrate that by asking them questions about their own experiences: Where were you when this happened? Where was I? And, if they have been there in the past: When was the last time you were there? Tell them terrorists want to scare us so that we change the way we live our lives. That’s why it’s so important to remember the real risk,” Ronete says.

Follow the ‘safe right now rule’

Robel Iyassu believes it could be beneficial to point out that the fact these things have happened recently means we could be safer than before. “It can be helpful to point out that the police are even more vigilant following these attacks, so in actual fact we are safe – due to heavy police presence,” she says.

Ease away night terrors

If a child is so troubled about events that it manifests in nightmares it can be helpful to reassure them that they are safe in their bed. “Remind them (in the moment) that they are safe, away from harm and the nightmare was simply a dream,” explains Robel Iyassu. “Let them know that they are safe right now, and that’s all that matters, encourage them to glance around the room and notice how safe and sound they are – an in situ audit of their immediate environment.”

Robel also suggests reminding children of all the good dreams they have too. “We have good dreams where we have fun and meet our favourite celebrities, then we have bad dreams that can be scary, but they are just like the good dreams – only a dream.”

Reinforce the ‘good people’ message

It is important to highlight and repeat as many times as it needs that only very few people do these kind of things. “Although it may feel when listening to the news that everyone is going to do bad things, remind children that this is not true,” advises Tereza nogueira, UKCP child and adolescent psychotherapist at “Pass the message that there are many nice people and nice things happening in the World. Let’s help children to understand that television keeps repeating the same news as if they are happening again and again.”

Author and TV behaviour expert, Richard Daniel Curtis also suggests highlighting how the attacks have brought everyone together. “Unfortunately some people believe that doing nasty things makes them feel better about the things they are saying, just as bullies do in the playground,” he says. “Explain this to your child and show them pictures or videos of the unity it has caused – there are always people who help and there are always good things people do afterwards to make us stronger.”

Experts suggest keeping an eye on your children's behaviour [Photo: via Pexels]
Experts suggest keeping an eye on your children’s behaviour [Photo: via Pexels]

Be mindful of your children’s behaviour

“Notice what your children do and their sleeping and eating patterns during this period,” advises David James Lees, talking therapist, author, speaker and broadcaster on integrative health and emotional wellbeing. “Remember that children digest and process information at different speeds and in different ways. Be happy to return to the subject or answer the same question again until your child has found a resolution.”

And if your child’s behaviour starts altering drastically in any way it might be a good idea to seek further help. “There are risks associated with proactively telling a child about atrocities, that they may develop intrusive, repetitive thoughts, so if children start to ‘overthink’ such events, ruminating on them, and appropriate reassurance doesn’t help, advice may need to be sought, initially through a GP,” advises John Oates, Senior Lecturer (Developmental Psychology) at The Open University.

Stick to their usual routine

“It is probably not a good idea to deviate from any current sleeping plans/habits, as these will be difficult to reverse once the current worries of your child dispel,” advises Robel Iyassu.

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