Part of growing up is realising that bad things happen, but most parents (including me) dread having to talk to their kids about terrorism.
After all, how do we explain something so senseless and distressing?
But the succession of horrific attacks over the past few weeks means many children will have a lot of questions – and they need our best answers.
“If parents think their kids may have overheard something at school about, say, a shooting, the best thing to do is sit down at a good time and bring it up,” says psychologist Dr Susie Burke. “Say, ‘I want to talk to you about this, and answer any questions or worries you may have,’ and thereby open up the conversation.”
Listening closely will enable parents to see what their children have understood, and then clarify any misperceptions, adds Burke. “Be careful in the words you choose, so you avoid narrow analyses of problems. Children need help separating their angry feelings about the perpetrators from the larger cultural or religious group to which those people might belong.”
And if your children are anything like mine, the question of ‘why’ will inevitably come up. “It’s OK to say you don’t really know,” advises Burke. “But you can explain to them that the people who advocate hate and violence are a tiny minority – a small problem relative to the many challenges we face in society. By helping children see there are not many people like this, we reduce the impact of their violence and the leverage it has.”