How to Approach Terrorism with Your Child


. Avoid letting young children see disturbing videos. The line between fact and fantasy is fuzzy for young children. In order to prevent needless fears and nightmares, keep the news channel turned off when they’re around. Another way to soothe fears is point out the distance between your home and terrorist events. TV brings it right into your living room.

· Minimize what your child hears. When children are present (yours or others!) avoid discussing graphic topics. The more children hear about a tragedy the more they imagine and fear it. It is easy to forget a child is in the room, but children hear and internalize much more than you may think, so try and be aware when a child is present and consciously avoid the topic in their presence.

· If you do walk in to find your preschooler staring at disturbing footage on TV, stay calm. Simply say “Let’s give the TV a rest,” turn it off, and then gently redirect: “Tell me about this drawing you were working so hard on.” Don’t lunge for the remote, cover their eyes, or snap “You shouldn’t be watching that.” If you make it dramatic, it will make more of an impression and create anxiety.

· If your young child re-enacts a tragedy, help him play it out until everyone is safe. For example, if your child builds a LEGO city and then crushes it, saying it was “bombed,” say, “Time to call in the fix-it crew!” Join in in rebuilding it and then ask how it can be made safe. Perhaps he or she will build a wall, make a couch-cushion shield, or have a toy dinosaur guard it.

· When you hear fears, normalize their feelings. If they’re scared, say “Lots of kids and even adults feel scared. That was scary.” Don’t say, “Don’t worry about it.” or “There’s nothing to be scared of.” Even if that’s technically true, that’s not how they feel. They’ll feel dismissed and learn you’re not someone who’s safe to talk to.

· Remind them that most people are good. Soothe fears with reminders that even though terrorists use violence, most people don’t approve of violence as a way to solve problems. Remind them that, of all the people in the world, not many are terrorists and that, in fact, most people are caring and kind and usually find peaceful ways to solve their disagreements. Reassuring children that military, police, or other community helpers they already know are there to protect people no matter what. Likewise, if there is news coverage about someone acting as a hero or helping the survivors, tell them the story (leave out the negative details). Leave your child with faith in humanity.