The media coverage of the terror attack at a pop concert in Manchester this week has been deeply disturbing, in part because we can easily imagine own children in similar circumstances. The Coronial Inquest into the Lindt Cafe seige also has reminded us of the shock and distress we felt when this hit our screens in 2014. Our children are not immune from these realities. It can be challenging for teachers and parents to speak to children about these confronting events, but they depend on our support to feel reassured about their own safety and the security of those they love. 

Parents are encouraged to have open, honest conversations about world events (both good and bad) as this allows them to clarify any misconceptions and identify any ongoing worries the child might have.

The Australian Psychological Society makes the following key points about talking to children about terrorism:

  • Conversations with children about violent conflict, war and terrorism can be difficult but important.
  • Very young children can be shielded from traumatic events by not letting them see or hear media reports, or overhear adult conversations about the events.
  • Parents and carers of school aged children can open the conversation to check how the child is feeling, clarify facts, and set the emotional tone.
  • Listen to understand how children are feeling and thinking.
  • Look out for changes in children’s usual behaviour that suggest they are unsettled or distressed.
  • Reassure children and let them know that they are safe and are being looked after, and that nothing bad will happen to them personally.
  • Limit the amount of time children spend watching media coverage of tragedy and terror, or watch with them so you can provide your adult presence and perspective.
  • Provide truthful but simple and thoughtful explanations that will help them to develop a realistic understanding of the event.
  • Avoid stereotyping, narrow analyses of the problem, disaster or crisis, and blaming of whole groups for the actions of a few.
  • Leave children with a sense of security but also hope, and help them to see that their world is basically a safe place, people are usually good, and that life is worth living.
  • Look for the helpers and the heroes that help to make the world a better place.
  • Help children find something positive to do in response to distressing world events, so they feel they can make a positive difference in the world.
  • Pay attention to your own reactions and model good coping skills for dealing with distressing and confusing events. 

This site also provides practical information on

-      What age should children be before we have these conversations?

-      Signs that children are feeling distressed

-      Practical things adults can do to help

Jen Jarrett | Director of Student Wellbeing Pre-K to 12