When a tragic event occurs, particularly one as senselessly violent as last Saturday's Hamas attacks on Israel, it can be challenging for adults to process their grief and fear. This difficulty is even more pronounced for both young children and older children, who may not yet have the tools to comprehend the harsh realities of the world.
The world is currently mourning the recent violence and loss of life in Israel and Gaza. Knowing how to navigate this situation and what to say to our children is an incredibly tough task after a terrorist incident. Here are some valuable insights I've gathered from counselling families and educators on how to address such tragedies:
When discussing a tragic event with your child, it's crucial to be fully present. Turn off your cell phones and eliminate distractions to ensure the conversation gets the attention it deserves. Children often need to revisit the topic, ask repetitive questions, or repeat parts of the discussion as they process the information.
This is entirely normal and an important component of how to talk to kids about terrorism.
Parents often wonder whether they should conceal their difficult emotions when discussing death with their children. In most cases, it's perfectly acceptable to show sadness in front of your child. Honoring your own emotional experience provides permission for your child to acknowledge their own feelings. So, if tears flow while talking to your child, that's okay.
However, if you find yourself completely overwhelmed, it's essential to seek help for yourself first before engaging in a conversation with your child. Reach out to the leaders of your faith community, your child's school, a grief counselor, or a supportive friend.
While it's okay to use expressions like "passed away," avoid factually incorrect terms such as "has gone to sleep." Though the intention might be to shield your child from distress, abstract terms can often lead to confusion.
Expect your child to have questions about what they've heard, although they may not ask right away or may appear disinterested. These reactions are all normal ways that children process challenging topics. Your child might return with questions days or even weeks later.
Offer straightforward and truthful answers, addressing only the specific question asked without delving into unnecessary details. Avoid stereotypes and speculating, and don't hesitate to admit when you don't have an answer.
Create a supportive environment for your child to grieve. This may involve providing art supplies for younger children or a journal or scrapbook for older ones. Validate your child's emotions, reassuring them that it's okay to feel sad and grieve, as these feelings are entirely normal during such times.
Understand that it's also okay if your child feels somewhat emotionally detached or has difficulty expressing their feelings. Emotions fluctuate, and this is a natural part of the grieving process.
However, if your child was close to a victim or has family members impacted by terrorist attacks, or if you notice prolonged symptoms of grief or avoidance that worsen over time, consider seeking the assistance of a grief counselor or child psychologist.
As adults, there are actions we can take to support and reassure children during these difficult times. As a community, we can unite in friendship and fellowship. It's also important to acknowledge and appreciate our first responders and healthcare providers.
Taking a moment to express gratitude when the opportunity arises can mean a great deal to those who tirelessly engage in heart-wrenching frontline work for the benefit of our community.
Dr. Jillian Roberts is a registered psychologist, Professor at the University of Victoria, founder of the MindKey Health Clinics and author of What Happens When a Loved One Dies: Our First Talk about Death and On the News: Our First Talk About Tragedy, both of which are available on Amazon.
If you need help explaining to children the recent violence in the Middle East, please use the promo code "CLINIC 100" to access Dr. Jillian Roberts’ parenting course on Terror & Tragedy free of charge as a mental health resource.
Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners