Terrorism is something that affects all of us ... even our children. It's a tragic part of the world they are growing up in.
Our immediate instinct is to shield our children from what's going on around them ... to keep them from knowing about the danger that lurks in today's world.
While we may wish we didn't have to talk about terrorist acts with our innocent kids, it's a necessity. Due to the world we live in and the nonstop news cycle, we must develop the tools to discuss terrorism with children. Even in tragedy, we must tell our children the truth and help them process it. That's not easy because usually we're having difficulty wrapping our heads around what has happened ourselves.
Here are some helpful tips about how to talk with children about terrorism:
Tell them ASAP. Children will hear what happened either by overhearing a news report or from a friend at school or listening to someone else talking about it. It's best that it comes from you first so you can answer their questions, share the appropriate facts and set the emotional tone.
Let the child's questions steer the discussion. Kids may ask questions like, "Am I going to be OK?" or "Why do these people do such terrible things?" or "Will life ever be the same again?" or "Could this happen here?"
Pay attention to the types of questions they are asking and listen for any fears they may have.
Let them express their feelings. Some children may not speak up about their feelings or fears unless you ask them. Ask the child if he or she has any worries about what happened. Just telling the child there's nothing to worry about will show them you may not be the person to speak to about their fears. Let them talk it out and show that you understand.
Children are egocentric and believe that any bad thing that happens anywhere is heading their way. Don't dismiss their fears as foolish, but point out that terrorism events are rare and unlikely to happen to them.
Keep it age appropriate. You don't need to share all the details with them like the exact number of people who died or what specific kinds of weapons were used or how the attack was coordinated.
Preschoolers: If the child is under 5, it is OK to avoid the subject if possible. At this age, kids tend to confuse facts with fears, so limit access to news and other sources of information. If they do ask questions, answer them simply but carefully. You don't have to give them any more details than they ask for.
Elementary-age kids: Answer who, what, when and why. Then let the child's questions and concerns guide the conversation. Focus on the child's well being.
Reassure them. After you've talked them through their fears, assure them of their safety. Reassure them there are good people trying to prevent any future attacks. Put it perspective by letting them know it's on the news because it is an unusual occurrence.
Keep a normal routine. Keep your normal daily routines going. This will help them feel stable and secure.
Model a good response. Stay calm as you talk through the events. Children pick up their cues from their parents' responses. If your voice conveys confidence in the people who are protecting us, it reassures your children.
The No.1 thing kids need from their parents during times like these is their time. Just be available for your kids. This is the best thing you can do for your children during this tumultuous age of terrorism.
Dale Hudson has been in Children's Ministry for over 25 years. He is the director of children's ministry at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida. Christ Fellowship has nine campuses and ministers to over 22,000 people on weekends. Dale leads a Children's Ministry staff team of over 50 and a volunteer team of over 2,600.
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