When Children Become Targets: 7 Keys to Talking to Kids About Terror
As we all know by now, ISIS has sunk to a new low: targeting innocent little girls. The terrorist who blew-up himself and others earlier this week in Manchester, England at an Ariana Grande concert knew that her audience is primarily girls, and the arena would be packed with them.
Sadly, that means little girls now identify more closely with the victims of a terrorist attack than ever before and many are probably wondering: "Could this happen to me?"
Child psychologists say when discussing with children any type of crisis or tragedy -- including terror -- parents must first consider the child's age. That makes all the difference in how you proceed, because a child's mind processes emotional trauma differently depending on his or her level of maturity.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
1. Avoid Discussing With Very Young Children: Experts say if at all possible, shield children under the age of five entirely. Try not to expose them to the news or adult conversations about the news. However, if the children are aware of the tragedy, don't ignore it and follow the guidelines below.
2. Listen To Children: Regardless of their age, children and teens need to feel heard. When young people are confused and/or afraid, allow them to express their feelings. Give them your undivided attention. Look them in the eyes and don't interrupt them. Give them the time to fully express their feelings. NEVER tell a child their feelings are wrong.
3. Assure Children: Psychologists say when children are afraid, their primary concern is, "Who will take care of me?" Children understand they are not able to care for themselves, so parents must reassure their children that someone will continue to look after them. Family therapist Dr. Linda Mintle says keeping routines and structure make children feel safe. She also advises parents to keep their own emotions in check, because kids often pick-up on their parents' fears.
4. Don't Say Too Much: Try not to elaborate or overwhelm children with more information than they are equipped to handle. However, if a child asks follow-up questions, in an age-appropriate way, explain the security measures that are in place to protect them. If they are old enough to understand, explain the chance of being the victim of a terrorist attack is statistically miniscule.
5. Present a Biblical World View: Dr. Mintle says when children want to discuss terrorism, it's an opportunity for parents to present the message of good and evil from a biblical context. "Children may have been taught relativism, which is anti-biblical," she says, adding, "There is good and evil traced to two sources: God or Satan. The devil is real, his minions are real and there is a war with principalities and powers."
6. Provide Hope: Dr. Mintle advises parents to remind children that God allows us to overcome evil through His son Jesus Christ. Jesus always triumphs over evil.
7. Be Affectionate: A light touch is reassuring to children and makes them feel connected.