With all that has been going on in the world recently, I’ve wondered more and more when and how much I should share with my children about upsetting world events such as terrorist attacks. My husband and I have had sort of an unspoken rule about not having the news on in our house unless our children are asleep. We simply feel there are way too many scary and inappropriate things they may see at their young and vulnerable age. However, following the recent terror attacks in France, I felt that we should include the victims in our prayers. So, I began to ponder how to handle speaking to them about such a delicate subject. Since I felt unsure, I decided to do some research.
What I read only reinforced what I had already felt about watching the news in front of my children. Research has actually shown that watching media coverage of these types of events, especially repeated viewing, can indeed create stress for children, even when they are not directly exposed to the disaster in their own lives. In fact, “…if children are over-exposed to footage or images from the events, we know that vicarious trauma can sometimes occur. This happens when we hear or see images from a particular traumatic event, and have a reaction comparable to that of someone who actually experienced the trauma firsthand” (Young, 2015).
Although this confirmed my feelings about viewing the news with them present, I also realized that I am not able to completely shield them from any and all exposure to these sorts of horrific events, especially now that they are entering school. So, I began to read further and came across some tips for parents that I found helpful…
- We should consider our own emotional responses. It’s important to stay calm when speaking to our children. Children look to us as their role models. Therefore, if we show sadness as a reaction to these events, they too, will likely show sadness. If we show anxiety, they will likely feel anxious. If they see us respond in prayer, they will likely respond by praying as well.
- We need to be mindful of our children’s individual personalities and temperaments. Some children are more prone to feeling fearful, while others may not pay much attention. Knowing how our children behave when feeling scared can help us to better respond to their emotional needs. We should listen to and validate their emotions. It’s important to answer questions honestly and keep the communication lines open.
- Encouraging them to express their emotions in healthy ways is also critical.
- If we highlight the ways in which love is being shown as a result of the tragedy, it can bring some positive out of something otherwise horrific. I found this tip to be particularly helpful and one I don’t think I would have necessarily thought of on my own. To me, pointing out the kind deeds and acts of bravery that can often be found in the midst of these times of profound heartache is a wonderful way to remind children of God’s unfailing love!
- We should reassure children that there are people working to keep us safe.
- Finally, the most important tip I read was to reassure children that God is in control. As Christians, we believe in a sovereign God who is not surprised by the events that occur around us. Therefore, we have a responsibility to teach this to our children, reminding them that peace can be found in the knowledge that God is in control. No matter what happens, they can ultimately have hope through Jesus Christ.
In the end, I decided to keep my statements about the tragedy in France completely truthful, yet brief. I simply said that some bad people had hurt a lot of people in France and that we needed to pray for them and their families. I was stunned by my eldest son’s reply. He asked, “Do you mean like the bad men who knocked the buildings down?” Of course, he was referring to the 9-11 attacks. Despite the fact that we have not recently spoken about or watched any coverage of the attacks in front of him, he immediately remembered the little we had told him about that day when we were at a memorial about a year ago. I was amazed that he instantly made that connection even though I had been so vague in my statement about what had happened in France. It reminded me of how much children pay attention to everything they hear and see and how much gets soaked into their precious little brains and hearts. Therefore, I’ve decided I want to imprint on their hearts something I often have to remind myself when faced with these heartbreaking and scary situations. It comes from the book of Philippians:
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:6-13, NLT)
Christian Today. (2015) Talking to children about terrorism. Retrieved from: (http://www.christiantoday.com.au/article/talking.to.children.about.terrorism/20747.htm)
Scripture Union. (n.d.) Talking with your children about…war and terrorism. Retrieved from: http://www.scriptureunion.org.uk/Families/Parents/Talkingabout/WarandTerrorism/1210.id