It is hard to speak about these atrocities in a way that supports and helps your child without making their fears worse and, at the same time, acknowledging the enormity of the event.
The attack in Manchester had a huge impact on children and teenagers: this time they themselves were being attacked: Ariana Grande is theirs; they identify with her and her audience. And the London Bridge attack is geographically close and an area familiar to most of us.
First, allow yourself to feel what you feel
On the morning after the Manchester attack, I woke up to five messages on the family What’sApp from my (early rising) family in Denmark, asking if my daughter was safe in Manchester.
Instant shock and fear. Switch on news whilst phoning her. The news sinks in, the feeling of shock continues.
This attack felt personal, not just because she now lives in Manchester and has friends working at the venue: Memories came flooding back of taking my oldest to her first concert to see All Saints in London in the 90s.
- I cry for the loss of life and innocence
- I give thanks that my children are safe and unharmed.
- I feel despair at how we humans behave towards each other.
- I am heartened at the instant attempts to look for the good amongst the horror: the heroes, the helpers, the community response.
I feel sadness. Others feel anger. What are you feeling?
Whatever you feel it is important that you acknowledge those feelings and come to a place of realising that they are feelings, they are not who you are.
When you do that you have a choice about how you respond and how you talk to your child about what has happened. You can model the ability to feel a feeling and still be rational and form opinions that aren’t knee-jerk reactions.
Don’t ignore what is happening
If your child is not talking about it, bring up the subject. They cannot avoid hearing about it and they need to talk with their most trusted adults to process it.
Allow your child to feel what they feel
Validate their feelings – whatever they feel, it is valid and okay. Even not feeling anything is fine.
Tell the truth
It is such big news because it is rare and unusual. Nearly 1,800 people are killed on our roads every year. Less than 100 in terror attacks since 2005. Answer their questions truthfully without being overly dramatic. They need to be able to trust you to tell the truth. You are not a tabloid.
Make the distinction
between ‘people’ doing ‘bad things’ and there being ‘bad people’ out there. The latter are more scary for children.
After 9/11 it became clear that those who endlessly watched footage of the events were far more anxious. Distract with family routines and make an effort to do something extra safe and familiar to counteract the horror. Watch out for all the other news outlets available to children.
Is this adding to a burden?
If your child is already under some kind of pressure, feeling anxious or experiencing loss, be aware that they will need extra love and attention right now.
A ship is safe in harbour but that is not what ships are built for.
It is not in our power to keep our children safe. It never was.
- Are you feeling completely helpless in the face of the wickedness and the randomness of it all?
- Sick to your very soul at the barbarity and cruelty?
- Deeply fearful about your own child’s safety in this world?
How did the recent terror attacks affect your child or teenager?
Can you add important steps or ways of addressing this problem in a way that doesn’t foster more fear and anxiety?