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The Four Winds Blog

Talking to Your Kids About Terrorism

By Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D

There are certainly some topics that are easier to talk about with our kids than others. The tough talks can take a toll on us. We stress and worry about the right way to present and discuss certain topics. Because our kids live in a world with the world-wide web, it is virtually impossible to avoid their exposure to news and events we would probably rather they did not know about. Even if we have the ability to fully shelter our own children, unless they are living in a virtual bubble, they are bound to be exposed at some point to the unsavory chaos that exists in our world. With terrorist attacks seemingly on the rise, or at least more prevalent in the media, digital or otherwise, terrorism is a topic that we must address.

How do parents strike the balance between honesty and the imminent truth that there are scary unpredictable things going on in the world? Perhaps the discussion should actually start with the facts.

  1. it may feel as if terrorist attacks are at an all time high, the reality is that terrorist attacks in Western Europe are comparably lower and less deadly than in the late 1970’s-mid 1990’s. (As reported by Bryan Schatz in Mother Jones, and in many other sources.) This may bring solace to us as parents. However, it does not erase the fact that because of major technological advances, children today are more likely to be aware of these traumatizing events. It is helpful for parents to relay this information to our children though, because as we all know perception is everything. When children are aware of attack after attack it may make them feel that they live in an unsafe world. The key to having honest conversations about this difficult topic lies in ensuring that there is interactive discussion. Don’t assume you know your child’s worries. Let them talk and be heard.

The best way to gauge your child’s actual knowledge and exposure is to talk about current events on a regular basis. When engaging in these discussions, always let your child talk first. If you rush in, you may be offering information your child has not had time to process.

Sometimes you do need to turn off the technology delivering the news. The images most of us were exposed to after 911 offer a harsh lesson in how easy it is to be re-traumatized. Watching the towers fall over and over took a hardy toll on many of us.

It is also important to consider your child’s age and level of understanding. Because our kids are barraged with facts and figures wherever they go, they tend to parrot what they have heard quite often without really attaching meaning to it. Be wary; just because your child says something doesn’t mean they necessarily understand the meaning.

The bottom line is simple, the more you know about what your children know, the more opportunity you have to offer appropriate insights and assurances.

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