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How to Talk to Your Child About Terrorism

Blog How to Talk to Your Child About Terrorism

Terrorist attacks are now a sad reality of our lives. And even if you haven’t been directly affected by terrorism, reports of attacks seem to dominate the news and inspire fear. How are you supposed to explain the state of affairs to your children? We asked Mary McAteer, M.D., a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, to offer ways you can help your children make sense of a seemingly scary world.

Limit exposure

While you may be hyper aware of a recent act of terrorism, your child might be relatively oblivious to it depending on his age. If he doesn’t seem to know about the incident, there’s no reason to draw attention to it by tuning into the news on television 24 hours a day. “However, if your kids happen to see you reacting to the news, upset about something you’re reading in the newspaper, you can let them know that you’re sad about something you read,” says Dr. McAteer. It’s better to explain very briefly and clearly why you’re sad, so that your child doesn’t jump to wild conclusions and worry unnecessarily.

Reassure your child that he is safe

If your child hears something in school or sees something on TV about a terrorist threat or attack and asks you about it, be honest. But the most important thing to do is make clear that you (and police officers, firefighters and other professionals) are doing everything possible to keep her safe, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Let your child take the lead

Before you launch into a complicated explanation of the situation, ask your child what he has heard and what he is feeling. This is your opportunity to dispel any rumors or misunderstandings. Give direct information in simple language. What you tell your child will vary based on his age and grasp of the issue. Let your child’s questions be your guide. Not sure where to go from there? This AAP recommended web site may also be helpful in starting dialogue.

Focus on the good guys

This is a prime time to reinforce the idea that there are professionals out there whose job is to protect us, and we can go to them for help. “Teach who the safe authority figures are,” says Dr. McAteer. “Even toddlers can learn this with books about police officers, teachers, firefighters, doctors, and such.” You can stress the importance of listening to teachers when going through safety drills at school, or turning to a police officer on the street if your child feels unsafe.

Look for signs of anxiety

Even if you talk things out with your child, it’s natural for her to still feel anxious and worried about terrorism and her own safety. And she may not tell you directly. If you notice that your child is suddenly getting stomachaches or nightmares, or shows other troubling new behaviors, these could be signs of anxiety, according to the AAP. Let her know it’s okay to be scared, angry, or anxious and remind her that you’re there to comfort and support her. If the anxiety lingers, consider reaching out to a mental health counselor for guidance.

-- By Rachel Peachman

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