The wake of any trauma such as the terrorist attacks in Manchester or at London Bridge, it is shocking and upsetting for all of us, but it can be especially difficult for us to help children to come to terms with what has happened.
Younger children will feel unstable and be frightened for their safety by what has happened, whilst older children, as well as experiencing fear and uncertainty, may also question human nature, or contemplate the pointlessness of life. Constant news coverage and sensationalist reporting on social media can serve to exacerbate these feelings and it is important to children of ages to hear the facts from a calm and reputable source, rather than inaccurate reporting via unsubstantiated websites or exaggerated versions of events via their friends.
It can be very tempting to try to shield young people from upset in the outside world, hoping that they will not have to deal with the horrors of traumatic events, but it is likely that they will hear about them at some point, so better that they hear the news in the right way, supported by a patient, undertanding and supportive parent. Life itself brings ups and downs, so hearing about such events and being helped to understand them is part of the preparation they will need to become well-rounded and resilient adults. Depriving them of this experience may mean that they are less able to cope with their own trials and tribulations when they are older.
So what to do?
1) In a calm environment with no distractions, explain that it is important to talk to someone they love and trust about their concerns rather than bottling things up. Explain that it is OK to have various feelings about what happened, including relief that it hasn't happened to them.
2) Ask them what they have heard (if anything) so that you can correct any errors straight away and guage how they feel about events. Give a brief outline of what has happened in an age-appropriate way, with not too much depth for younger children. e.g. "Someone tried to hurt a group of people they didn't know and a lot of people are upset about it." Too much detail may frighten them. Explain that things happened a long way away from them (e.g. you couldn't walk there in less than a day - young children don't tend to have an appreciation of distances more than a few centimetres) as things will seem much nearer if they are watching footage in their own house.
For children over eight, fobbing them off with short answers is likely to give them more anxiety as they will feel the need to understand the public reaction. Try to keep your own personal bias out of any explanation and stick to the facts. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know," or "They obviously have their reasons but I don't understand them." Reinforce the idea that violence against innocent people is never the answer.
3) Advise them to stay away from or ignore reports on social media and to get their information only from trusted sources such as broadsheet newspapers or the BBC and encourage them to read from a variety of sources to compensate for any bias.
4) Reassure them that these events are extremely rare - that's why they make the news! The last major terrorist attack like this was years ago and it is extremely unlikely that they will be caught up in anything like this. It seems as though these event are more frequent because they are widely reported from everywhere in the world, but terrorist violence has always been around (remember Guy Fawkes?) and statistically the chances of any one person being involved in a terrorist attack are so small that you can't even do the sums!
5) Remind them that there are lots of good people out there. The police and other agencies are working hard to protect us, so even though the checks at airports and large events can be annoying, they are for good reason. Also, highlight how events like this bring out the best of the human spirit. Look for the helpers. There are always stories of heroes who helped in extraordinary ways after a major trauma. There are far more good people in the world than bad.
6) Hug them for that little bit longer, remind them that they are loved and that you are always there for them and happy to talk about anything that is worrying them.
If you feel unusally upset or anxious about recent traumatic events or any other personal trauma, and your feelings don't subside over time, you may benefit from counselling. Contact CCC to book an appointment:
Hunts and Cambridge 01223 233047 or Peterborough 01733 553166