How to Talk to Your Children About Terrorism
As adults, when we hear about terrorism we have to sort through all of the sadness, anger, anxiety, fear or anything else that we may feel. As adults, most are able to pick through the biases of different news coverage and understand that some coverage is made to heighten fear and anxiety. Children, on the other hand, are not developed enough to do that on their own. The article, "The Orlando Nightclub Shooting: How to Talk to Your Child about Terrorism" written by Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D and can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-l-pulido-phd/the-orlando-nightclub-sho_b_10428582.html, has great suggestions to help parents learn healthy ways to address terrorism, specifically the attacks on the Orlando Nightclub Pulse.
Pulido gives several suggestions and scenarios to help parents be more comfortable talking about these kinds of situations. One example of those suggestions is to frame it in a way that is not producing unnecessary fear and anxiety. Keep the conversation age-appropriate. Pulido explains that news coverage on terrorist attacks can worsen that fear and anxiety, which makes monitoring what your child watches very important. A child that may be following the coverage of the Orlando Nightclub could be getting several different versions of the story and could be exposed to very graphic, disturbing images. Pulido states that, "A person cannot "unsee" something." Seeing those kinds of images can cause a lot of emotions for a child who is unable to process it. Pulido gives an example of research study, which can be found at: http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/cyf/disaster.aspx that shows more children who watched continuous new coverage had more PTSD symptoms.
When a child hears about terrorist attacks, she may want to talk about how it makes her feel or not. Either reaction is okay. Whether she wants to talk or not, let her know that you are there to listen to what she has to say about the situation, their fears, and to answer any questions. It is important to praise them for showing their emotions and to validate what children are saying. For example, if they express that they are sad to hear about all the people who were hurt, one appropriate response would be, "Yes, what happened makes a lot of people very sad too. It's okay to feel sad." Pulido thinks that it is beneficial to ask about what their fears are and address it. Don't try to correct them, any fear or feelings that they may have are important and valid, even if it isn't what you think is a "normal" reaction. Remind them about the first responders, the firefighters, the police officers and the medical staff helping those who were hurt and helping keep the rest of us safe.
Because children will be hearing so many different versions of the story from so many different sources, it is important to stick to facts when explaining scary situations. After discussing all of the not-so-fun things, ask them what will make them feel better, and try to accommodate. Overall, I agree with Pulido's suggestions. I have seen how doing things this way is more beneficial and help in the long run than avoiding these difficult, touchy subjects. I think it is important to keep the race/religion of the attacker out of the conversation. Break down the word "Terrorist" for them. Explain that it is someone who wants to hurt and scare people. The fact that that person was white, Jewish, Muslim, or a person of color is not relevant to helping the child. That will just give unnecessary fear or dislike towards a certain group of people. The issues that this article is trying to address is the lack of knowledge parents may have on dealing with questions about scary, real subjects in a healthy way.
Children are very impressionable. It is so vital that we, as parents, keep a tab on ourselves and not influence any of our own feeling of anger or hatred onto the child. As children, parents intentionally and unintentionally influence their children's fears, thoughts, opinions, wants, desires, tastes, and actions. I grew up with my grandparents. My grandfather loved the Chicago Bulls basketball team and the Miami Dolphins NFL team. As a child, I also was a big fan of those teams. My grandmother loves to cook and take care of people, both traits I picked up and kept with me my whole life. My grandmother is also very emotional. She cries very easily, she is very sensitive, and very submissive. I also learned these from her. Both grandparents, because of other influences they had, were very prejudice towards any person from the Middle East. Unfortunately, I was influenced by this tremendously. I do not think it was intentional at all, but I was consistently hearing scary conversations about Muslims and the Middle East and we were not aloud to buy anything made in the Middle East. I learned in my early adulthood that there were several good things that I was taught and some very bad things. I kept the good things and I actively try to build on them. I have taken the bad things and replaced them with love for people from all over the world. I am now a huge advocate and protester for the oppressed.
It is important to realize the influences your parents had on you so you can understand the kind of influence you will have on your children. Many people do not like to admit that we are so impressionable as children or adults. So many feel that if they accept that, then they are no longer unique or an individual. We are influenced by everyone around us. Social media, trends, religious groups, politicians, news channels, friends, teachers, and family. What religion are you? Is that the same religion of your parents? The decision to be that particular religion was probably very influenced by what religion your parents are. What is your favorite sports teams? Are they similar to your father's or uncle's? Do you automatically say "Thank you" when someone does something nice for you? Is your home messy or very tidy? Do you do exactly what you are told at work or always try to go above and beyond? How do you react to confrontation? Every answer was a result of your environment growing up.
In conclusion, as parents, we are responsible for helping our children through the scary subject of terrorism. There are many great ways to talk to your child about what terrorism is, what we are doing to keep each other safe, and what to do to help lesson the fear and anxiety. Children are very impressionable and it is also our job as parents to influence them with goodness and not negative biases. Difficult conversations will come up. Do not leave your child feeling alone or invalidated. Learn and find ways to help yourself be more confident and comfortable helping your children through these anxious and scary situations.