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Terrorism: how to make your child feel safe

Talking to your children about terrorism is a horrible job, but a necessary one in the modern world and how you tackle it depends very much on their age. It can feel counter-intuitive as a parent to discuss terrorism; after all, who wants to cause fear or unnecessary alarm in their children? The truth is however, that like it or otherwise, terrorism exists and as a parent it is best to confront the issue directly. But remember out of the worst comes the best, so there will be plenty of examples of people pulling together and building a stronger community that you can share with your children, too.

Below are some expert top tips from Siobhan Freegard, Channel Mum founder and  TV Psychologist Emma Kenny on talking to your children about terror attacks. We also have an an informative Facebook Live Q&A from Emma in the wake of the Westminster attack. We hope the video and our expert tips below will help you and your family. Remember you are not alone, there are many mums who feel like you do right now, come over and chat to them in the closed Channel Mum Facebook Group for help and support.

A mother talking to a young child

Expert Tips on Talking to your Children About Terrorism

from TV Psychologist Emma Kenny and Channel Mum Founder Siobhan Freegard

1) Very small kids really don’t need an in-depth explanation as they won’t be able to fully understand and it will only frighten them further. If you really need to say something, explain some people have ‘been very naughty and will get told off for it’.

2) Find out what they know and answer age appropriately. You can say ‘It’s good that you came to me with this question. Can you tell me what you have heard?’.

3) Often less is more. Many children only want to know: Am I safe? Could this happen to me? Read between the lines of your children’s questions and recognise that what they want most is reassurance.

4) While you may think that you are protecting your children by avoiding the subject of terrorism, the truth is that school-aged children will be exposed to the issue through other sources, such as peers, social media and in their schools. If you avoid discussing this subject with them, then it gives them a powerful message that you are trying to hide them from the issue. This may make it seem even more serious and alarming than it needs to be.

5) Instead of telling your child that they have nothing to worry about, validate their feelings and give them supportive information about how hard thousands of people are working really hard to keep them protected. While this doesn’t eradicate the fact that terror exists, it certainly goes a long way to making your kids feel secure.

6) Reframe their fears by offering them some really clear facts, such as you are more likely to die falling out of bed than you are to be harmed in a terror attack. This puts things in perspective and helps them see that while such attacks are scary, they are very, very rare and therefore shouldn’t stop them wanting to get on with their lives and normal activities. Everyday your kids all take risks, crossing the road, running in the schoolyard and getting public transport home, remind them that these are examples of how to put personal vulnerabilities in perspective

7) Children have access to smart technology and social media is rife with information and graphic images of terrorist attacks, both in the U.K. and abroad, so if you are not open to discussing their fears and feelings about the issue, then you will not be able to disarm those they are carrying. Simply ask them what they have heard or seen about events regarding terror and ask them how they feel about it. This will firstly offer you a chance to broach the issue, and secondly will raise your awareness of their understanding and potential concerns over terror

8) If your child feels anxious and scared by the information that they have heard, or the pictures they have witnessed, then reassure them that this is entirely normal. Terror attacks make us feel vulnerable and that leads to an increase in anxiety that takes a little while to normalise. Rest assured that with reassurance and time these feelings will fade.

9) The way you react to situations involving terror will automatically affect the way your kids feel towards the issue. If you are panicky and distressed, then expect your children to react in a similar manner. Even if these are your actual feelings, try to act calmly and confidently when you are with your children and when you are discussing the subject, as this will help them to feel safe and secure.

10) Don’t be afraid of explaining to your children that there are bad people in this world, but acknowledge that there are far more good people and evidence this by giving them examples of friends and family members with whom they have a good relationship with. Remind your children that when one bad man created chaos in Westminster, hundreds of good people ran to the aid of those who needed help.

11) Focus on your family positives; whether you have a holiday coming up, or an exciting trip that you can sit and plan together with your children, distracting them from the negatives and focusing on the positives that you control, really can help your kids put things back into perspective

12) Help to correct misinformation and inappropriate assumptions that they may have about who terrorists are. Islamaphobia is rife right now and helping to prevent the spread of prejudice and racism lies in the hands of us parents. Listen to their concerns and then explain that terrorists want to spread fear, whereas Muslims wish to spread peace.

13) Older children are likely to want more information – don’t fob them off as it could make them more anxious. Simple age appropriate answers are best and don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’.

14) Don’t create a modern day boogie man and don’t frighten them with dark explanations – or in some ways the terrorists have won.

15) Be there for your child – they may want to talk, be extra clingy or need hugs for reassurance.

16) Above all, make your child feel safe. However horrific the recent events, your chances of being hurt in a terror attack are tiny, so ensure your family focuses on what’s good in the world and how these attacks can bring people together, not tear us apart.

17) If you need more support on talking to your children about terrorism, please join the closed Channel Mum Facebook Group for help right now. There are so many mums who feel the same as you do right now. You are not alone.