Helping Children Cope with International and Domestic Terrorism
Raising a child is hard enough, then you add in horrific acts of terrorism and naturally the job gets even harder. Because of the unpredictable nature of terrorism, there is no perfect “how to” guide for helping your child understand it all. However, research and experience tell us that there are ways to support children which lessen anxiety and confusion during these significantly difficult times.
Guidelines for Helping Your Child Cope:
Make sure your child feels safe: Whether your child is 4 or 15, every child has a basic and foundational need to feel safe. Depending on the child’s age and comprehension level, it is important to help the child understand that the government or the “good guys” are doing everything that they can to make sure that this will not happen again (Conant, 2007). After a terrorist event, try to create a calming and relaxing environment to reinforce this feeling of safety and security. (Suggestions for Adults: Talking and Thinking with Children About the Terrorist Attacks, 2005).
Listen to the child: Reducing anxiety your child’s anxiety can also be supported through active conversation about the event and listening to their questions and concerns. How you approach “talking” about the event depends on each child’s developmental level. For example, an older child may want to personalize the event when asking questions, whereas a younger child may not verbalize as much, preferring to express through different creative outlet like drawing (Terrorism and War: How to Talk to Children, 2011). No matter the approach the child takes, finding answers can be difficult and stressful for the parent. Even if answers are not black and white, it is important to discuss their feelings and help the child assign meaning to events that seem so meaningless. Active listening without “feeding” feelings is considered the best way to support the child and help them develop their own understanding of the events.
Encourage positive focus and action: Help your child identify how people pull together during times of tragedy to create some sense of positivity from a negative event. Teaching your child how to deal with sadness and anxiety may help to empower him/her. Techniques such as talking about the event, writing down concerns, belly breathing, and sticking to well-known routines are all cited as helpful approaches for children when dealing with trauma after tragedy (Brophy-Marcus, 2016). Some children may also wish to send cards or care packages to the helpers after a tragedy, which is a positive action that reduces the sense of helplessness.
Understand your own needs: It is no secret that children often develop their understanding of events based on how their parents act or react. Children often parrot their parent’s behaviors, whether or not they truly understand what they are imitating. It is extremely important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself during traumatic events, so that you can be emotionally available for your child or children (Hagan, 2005). You can address your concerns and emotional needs by seeking out peers to discuss the event, praying, speaking with a professional, and generally ensure your mental health is a priority for yourself and your child. Parents tend to be the most selfless people we work with, without even knowing how much they give. Keep in mind that you are important, and your relationship with yourself guides your relationship with your kids.
Written by Shea Calleri, M.S., C.A.S. at Linden BP based information from the following resources. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.
Brophy Marcus, M. (2016, November 16). After Paris attacks, how to talk to kids about terrorism. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/paris-attacks-how-to-talk-to-kids-about-terrorism/
Conant, T. (2007, July 01). Talk to our children about violence and terrorism: Living in anxious times. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.schoolclimate.org/parents/documents/Talking_to_our_chidren_about_Violence_and_terrorism.pdf.
Hagan, J. F. (2005). Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for the Pediatrician. Pediatrics, 116(3), 787-795. doi:10.1542/peds.2005-1498
Suggestions for Adults: Talking and Thinking with Children About the Terrorist Attacks. (2005, June 15). Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/september11/adults.html
Terrorism and War: How to Talk to Children. (2011, March). Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Talking-To-Children-About-Terrorism-And-War-087.aspx