We often shy away from serious or uncomfortable questions with our children. We dismiss their inquiry believing they don’t need to know about that yet, and thinking we are protecting them by sheltering them from ‘adult information’. However, as we encounter more questions regarding violence in the world as a result of the terrorism reports plastering the news, it is counter productive to ignore these concerns from our young children. Here are some things to remember when talking to children about violence in the world:
- Do not dismiss their concern. When a child tells you, “I”m scared”, do not dismiss this emotion by telling them there is nothing to be scared of. They are experiencing a genuine emotion and simply writing it off like that invalidates their feelings. It is not comforting in the least. Instead, respond by saying something like, “It is scary to think about bad people and what they do”, ” Lots of people, kids and grown ups, feel scared”, or simply “It was very scary.” Validating their emotion shows them that it is OK to show fear, sadness or even admit being scared. It’s a human emotion shared by children and adults.
- Find ways to make them feel safe. After validating their feelings, be sure to find ways to make sure they feel safe. Above all, stay calm yourself. Tell your child about all the good people working together to keep us safe (leaders, military, police, parents, teachers, etc.). Ask them what would make them feel safe and be sure to share stories of heroes in our world.
- Ask them what they know. It’s important to ask open ended questions to find out what they already know, or what they think they know, about events in the news. Correct any misinformation and confirm correct reporting. This will give you a starting block to have age appropriate conversations with your child.
- Share the bigger picture with your children. Children think of violence as good guys vs. bad guys in equal parts. The fact is that the terrorists are a tiny minority in the world. They succeed by spreading fear and hate. It is our duty to fight terrorism by countering that hate with love.
- Look for the good in the world. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.” Pointing out the helpers and heroes in our everyday lives and the news will help children feel safe and build hope in humanity. That is how we fight violence, with vigilance and hope.