Paris attacks: How to explain the horror to children, by Sally Peck

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES - NOVEMBER 16:  A young girl lights candles to honour victims of the Paris terror attacks at Alliance Francais Manila on November 16, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. 129 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital on Friday night.  (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 16: A young girl lights candles to honour victims of the Paris terror attacks at Alliance Francais Manila on November 16, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. 129 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

As parents, there is a constant temptation to shield our children from bad news. But sometimes, and in particular with acts of terrorism, bad news is unavoidable – it’s in on television, it’s on social media, and it’s on our minds.

Like most people, I’ve been carefully following the news from Paris. My family has close ties to France, and my children’s ears perked up when news of the attacks came on the radio.

How to talk to children

For guidance on how to talk to my children about the attacks in Paris, I rang Gemma Allen, a senior bereavement counsellor at Winston’s Wish, Britain’s leading charity for bereaved children, who offers the following tips for talking to children about terrorist attacks.

Sad child on stairs

Children may have already heard the news Photo: Alamy

Here’s what she told me:

Language matters: For children of all ages, the most important thing is to reassure them that they are safe. Don’t get into the political context with primary-aged children. That may come up in conversation with older children, but the importance at any age is offering the reassurance that they are safe.

For pre-school children, use concrete language: don’t say “This person went to sleep” or “We’ve lost that person” – because that could instil fear or anxiety in that child about going to sleep. And what does lost mean? They’re lost at the shops? Be accurate and mindful of the impact of your language.

Age-appropriate conversations: For pre-school, think about how much exposure they’ve had. Maybe they’ve overheard the news, so the conversation could be quite brief: acknowledge what has happened, and say that lots of people have died as a result of a really bad incident. You can say that we don’t know why this has happened.

Two minutes silence to remember those killed in the Paris attack

Acknowledge what has happened, and say lots of people died as a result of a really bad incident Photo: Eddie Mulholland/The Telegraph

As the parent or teacher or carer, the most important part is to offer reassurance: this is very unusual, there are lots of safety checks in place to protect us. Use age-appropriate language, and be aware of what your child understands: do they really know what “died” means? It’s usually not until the age of 5 or 6 that children understand that death is permanent.

With primary school, the majority will understand what “dead” means. So it may be that you can add details – you may be able to sit down and watch the 6 o’clock news together.

The perpetrators: You should talk about a bad action or behaviour – not bad people. Ms Allen explains: “A lot of our work is with families bereaved through murder. With children, you must be careful about the language: people aren’t bad – it’s something bad that they’ve done – this helps prevent anxiety in children, and fears that ‘bad people’ are coming to get them.”

Paris terror suspects: (Clockwise from top left) Abdeslam Salah, Bilal Hadfi, Ahmad Almohamad, Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour and Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Don’t call the suspects “bad men”

Social media awareness: Secondary school aged children will have come across news about the Paris attacks already on social media. Remind them that some of the things they have read there may be incorrect. Have a conversation with your child about what they think has happened. Talk about the images they’ve seen – these can be more powerful than words. If they see an image, and haven’t had a conversation with someone they trust, they will build up these images something that is so big that it’s unmanageable for them; you don’t want a child to start fantasising that someone is going to come after them.

Promote peace: As I explained to my children, who are primary and pre-school age, the facts of what had happened, I tried to shift their focus towards the coming together of the people of Paris, and the work people around the world to keep everyone safe.

A memorial to the victims of the terror attacks outside the French embassy in Mexico CityFocus on the coming together of people in solidarity  Photo: AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

Shield them: From certain politicians’ dangerous reactions – for example, by sayings that terrorists were carrying out “an organised attempt to destroy Western civilisation,” Jeb Bush granted these men more power than they have. This hysteria is exactly what the people carrying out these acts want. And it is exactly this sort of hysteria that we, as parents, need to protect our children from.

(To read more of this article, follow the link below…)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/12000620/Paris-attacks-How-to-explain-the-horror-to-children.html?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fb_ref=Default&fb_source=message

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