Tips for ‘Talking & Teaching’ Children About Terrorism After The Atrocities in Barcelona.

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I was interviewed on LBC Radio today about the incident in La Ramblas in Barcelona – one of my favourite cities.

At least 13 people were killed and 100 injured on Thursday when a driver deliberately slammed a van into crowds on Barcelona’s most popular street in what police confirmed was a terror attack.

Citizens of 24 countries were among those killed and injured in Barcelona including one Belgian national confirmed to have died.

The attack, the latest in a wave of vehicle rammings across Europe in recent years, caused panic on the streets of Spain’s largest city and drew condemnation from world leaders.

We’re all looking for ways to explain something that’s impossible to explain—because we don’t understand it, and talking about terrorism is different from other frightening or unsettling news, because it’s very different from a natural disaster. Even as adults we are unprepared for random and atrocious acts of violence.

Whilst we wish we didn’t have to talk about terrorist acts with our children, it’s important that we do. Due to the world we live in and the nonstop 24/7 news cycle, you must develop the skills to discuss these topics with your kids.

These tips can help:

Find out what they know and what they understand.

We’d all like our children to remain blissfully unaware of acts of terrorism, but that’s not the world we live in. Children are very intuitive, perceptive and aware. If they don’t hear it on television, other kids are going to be talking about it in the playground or on social media. They may overhear you, or pick up that you are anxious, tense or more agitated than usual. Having the right information can actually help take away their fear, confusion, and anxiety and can help your children feel better.

Be led by your child’s questions and make the conversation age appropriate and based on your child’s maturity.

Turn Off The TV

I remember the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman Soham murders in Cambridgeshire, on 4 August 2002. The victims, Holly and Jessica, were two 10-year-old girls when my children were young and we used to come back in from a day on the beach on our holiday and turn on Sky News. It would go in a loop and I decided that the children really didn’t need to be exposed to such terrible ongoing news on a constant drip. I used the tragedy to ‘Talk & Teach’ them about staying safe.

Talk about it more than once.

Make sure your children know that they can ask you about difficult topics, because being able to talk about something intrinsically makes it less scary—and it keeps the lines of communication open so you can support them. Even if you have spoken about the subject with your kids, it’s important to keep talking, and more importantly listening, to them because they are at risk of getting a lot of misinformation from their friends at school.

Keep it simple.

We all know that violence can have lasting effects on children even if they are only learning about it through the media, so to take care with the images that your children see on TV or in newspapers or things they hear on the radio in the car.

Answer any questions your kids have in language they can understand. Avoid getting into conversations about religion, politics, or other subjects, which really aren’t relevant unless you’re talking to an older child or teenager.

Your Values

Be mindful how you speak about Muslims, Jews, Catholics or any people involved in atrocities as your children are learning from you about your core values. You are passing on your views about tolerance. So, try to use the incident as a lesson for learning and to teach them about respecting people’s differences.

Focus on the good acts of the people who rushed to help. The Emergency Services, Police or Paramedics or the general public.

Minimise the incident, don’t magnify it.

Say something like ‘Something sad happened. People got hurt and killed, but other people looked after them and we are all very safe’. Reassure, reaffirm they are safe and keep it simple.

If your child asks “Why do people want to hurt us?” or “Why do the terrorists hate us?” your child is making this personal. So, answer to generalise it with something like “They don’t hate us, because they don’t even know us.” Otherwise you will create fear in your children who have picked up the idea that they may be personally hated by scary, very violent people who might crawl in their bedroom window during the night when they are asleep.

Encourage your children to express their emotions and how they feel.

Listen without interruption or belittling their fears and worries, and help them to name their feelings. Your intention is to try and help your kids cope and understand what’s going on, but to also teach them coping strategies that can last a lifetime.

Reassure them.

Whilst you can acknowledge that what has happened is frightening, you want to reassure your kids with your words and behaviour, and the way you speak. Notice your tone of voice and body language and convey confidence, and remember it’s important that you put the incident into perspective. Talk about the fact that it’s in the News because it’s so unusual – this helps to keep it in perspective and balance.

Teach your kids that while there are some bad people in the world, there are many more good people. Make a list with your child of all the good people they know from the school caretaker to nurses and police officers. Talk about acts of kindness people do in life and get your child to remember when someone has been kind and helpful for no reason.

Keep your routines the same and keep life feeling normal. So ‘right it’s bath time’. keeps things in the here and now, which is where most young children feel at ease.

Empower them.

Terrorist attacks are frightening because they make us feel out of control, so help your children focus on areas where they do have power over their safety. ‘Talk and Teach’ your kids about ways they keep themselves safe, like wearing their seatbelt in the car, or wearing their crash helmet when they’re riding their bike. It helps them to feel in control of some aspects of their lives.

With teenagers talk about the issues that the incident raises calmly and listen to their opinions.

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