One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is knowing what to tell your children about the realities of life. And that is magnified in the era of terror attacks, which seem inexplicable and increasingly common.
I remember waking up in 2017 to the news of the Paris attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, and elsewhere, and thinking I would shield my daughter from this horrible event. Yet when I went in to wake her up the first thing she said was ‘Mummy, what’s ‘Pray for Paris’’. Nothing gets past social media now.
How do we talk to our children about such difficult events which will often strike fear into our own minds as well?
In Britain previous generations have lived through terrifying and challenging times and survived – World War II, which impacted directly on most people in Britain, is still in living memory. We had terrorist bombings by the IRA through the 70s, affecting populations in several cities.
Today we have threats on a number of levels: the financial crisis, we are told, could happen again; terrorist attacks seem more random; knife crime has soared in our major cities; our kids are being lured by social ills like pornography and drugs. (Sorry, this is becoming really morbid).
All these things can strike fear in us as parents, unable to properly assess the risk and feeling helpless to do anything. But we can decide how we are going to view these threats and how we approach them with our children.
Here are some of the tools from Bounceability that can help:
- Talk to your child about their worries and reassure them that you, and others, are there to help them. Bedtime can be a good time to talk.
- Understand how anxiety can affect them during and after puberty; acknowledge the worries but help them to get perspective (things aren’t usually as bad as they seem) and to problem solve. Anxiety does pass.
- Explain that bad things do happen in life, but we are still essentially safe. The likelihood of being caught up in a terror attack is very low. It doesn’t mean we have to stop going to places or be fearful when we are out.
- If they do get anxious encourage them to breathe slowly, counting in for three, holding for four, and out for five. Distraction can also help, talking about something nice or funny that’s happened recently. Give them a cuddle or hold their hand to soothe them. When they go out they can have a little object that comforts them in their pocket, like a small toy or keepsake.
- Follow the wellbeing lifestyle: healthy diet, regular exercise to reduce the levels of stress hormones, enough sleep at night, and try to limit screen or computer time in the evening.
- If something awful does hit the news try to calm yourself before you speak to your children about it. Explain that it is awful, wrong and very sad, but we are still safe. If it is upsetting don’t look at the news until they have gone to school and don’t have the TV on in your house, especially if a situation is ongoing. TV or radio coverage, even if it’s in another country, can instil anxiety, and we still have to go about our lives.
We often need courage to go about our lives, but there are still a lot of good things to celebrate.