Guide for parents and teachers - How to talk to children about terrorism…

November 2017

With recent tragic events filling our television screens, it is increasingly difficult to protect children from what is happening around the world. Even if we are successful in this, it is likely that they may hear about events from their peers.
It can be tempting to try to avoid children’s questions. We may fear that we may say the wrong thing and subsequently, increase their anxiety or perhaps we simply do not have the answers they are looking for. As with any sensitive issue, it is important that children know that they can seek information from the trusted adults around them. Drawing on research from some of the leading child psychologists, we’ve created a simple guide to support both parents and teachers to talk to children about terrorism.
Where possible, protect children from seeing images that may cause distress and anxiety.
Check out the child’s level of knowledge and understanding about the situation they are asking about. This will help you to pitch it at the right level for them and give you a moment to prepare your response.
Be aware of the language they are using e.g. ‘Why do they hate us?’ can indicate that the child is personalising the situation. Help them to depersonalise it e.g. ‘They don’t know us, they’re just angry about something’.
Use the conversation as a learning opportunity by emphasising the importance of tolerance and respect and that violence of any kind can never be justified e.g. ‘We know it is never ok to hurt others’.  
Be as honest as possible, but always consider the child’s developmental stage. Where appropriate, you may need to minimise the event to offer reassurance e.g. ‘There are lots of people that are there to help’.
Stay calm in your response, children pick up very easily on other’s anxiety. Most importantly children need to feel safe. So ensure that you always end the conversation with reminding them about all of the people who are there to protect them e.g. parents, wider family, teachers, police.
Create and maintain safe spaces for children to talk. Letting them know that you are pleased that they felt able to speak about it and that they can ask questions at any time will help to achieve this.