The tragedies in the United Kingdom recently have sparked questions from children across the nation – questions that don’t come with easy answers.

These horrific stories of terrorism and violence always take me back to the day when our lives were forever changed, Sept. 11, 2001. On that evening nearly 16 years ago, my then 3-year old daughter toddled into the living room as we were glued to the evening news, and said in her sweet and innocent voice, “Airplanes are supposed to fly in the sky, not into buildings.” Of course, she was right. Airplanes are supposed to fly in the sky and not into buildings. No matter how much we tried to shield her from the events of the day, she was aware that something was not right in the world.

We can’t pretend with our children that these tragedies we hear about in the UK, France, Belgium and Africa didn’t happen, that lives were never lost. At the same time, we don’t want to cause undue worry upon children who may simply be too young to discuss these events. Think about how you want your children to hear answers: from you, their friends, social media rumors or the media.

Just because children watch network news or are able to read a newspaper doesn’t mean they can process the information. Learning of a shooting elsewhere may lead them to think that a shooting will occur near them. Sometimes fear prompts questions; but, sometimes fear manifests itself in other ways, such as stomachaches, not wanting to go to school, or not wanting to leave your side.

Years ago, I picked up these tips from the PBS Parents website, www.pbs.org:

Find out what your child knows already. If your child asks you a difficult question (about violence, death, illness, etc...), you might simply ask, “What have you heard?” This allows your child to tell you what he or she understands – or misunderstands – and perhaps what concerns are prompting the question.

Keep your answers simple. Give answers that are appropriate for your child’s age. One simple sentence may be enough. Underneath a child’s question, he or she may be worried about safety. Offer reassurance, such as “The policeman is there to protect us.”

Ask more questions. If your child asks you about people being injured on the news, you might say, “I feel sad those people got hurt. How do you feel?”

Talk again. Be prepared for your child to ask the same question many times. This means he or she is continuing to think about the issue and may need more information.

For very young children, www.ParentsAsTeachers.org advises that parents should take their child’s fears seriously. Be careful not to say that the fears are silly. Avoid scary movies, games or television. Let your child have something that makes him or her feel safe, such as a favorite blanket. A hug can add reassurance as you tell your child that you will keep him or her safe.

Conversations about difficult subjects present the chance to teach your child about how their words and actions, both good and bad, affect and influence others. You may wish to share the T.H.I.N.K. acronym with your child. Ask yourself, “Are my words: T-Truthful; H-Helpful; I-Inspiring; N-Necessary; K-Kind?”

The U.S. Department of Education in a 2005 report, Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen, states “Children share the values of their parents about the most important things in life. Our priorities and principles and our examples of good behavior can teach our children to take the high road when other roads look tempting… We can show them our compassion and concern when others are suffering, and our own self-discipline, courage and honesty as we make difficult decisions.” 

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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