How to talk about Manchester, London Bridge (and other terror attacks)
I’ve been asked by a few people about how to talk about the terrible bombing attack in Manchester yesterday, especially with children and young people. Or even whether to talk about it at all. And now there is London Bridge too, just a few days later. People are also wondering how they themselves should talk or act about this, as parents, grandparents teachers etc. So I thought I’d put this quick blog post together.
We are connected to media 24/7 and often have the belief more information will help us piece together a situation. However, the news agenda can be very negative, especially after an event like this. It’s important to remember we have a choice in how much it’s helpful to expose ourselves – and our children – to bad news.
There’s only so much information that’s going to make it any more understandable. Children take their cue from parents or caregivers. They’ll be looking to parents for a signal as to how to react to a situation. It’s important parents help children identify their emotions.
When kids are feeling fearful or anxious it’s okay to distract them for a while, but it’s also equally valid to acknowledge that, help them to name that and help them to deal with that. Get to know what your child’s need for information is. Ask them what they would like to know, and give them access to that information too. Tell them enough to be safe, and no more than that. Avoid unnecessary graphic detail.
And in terms of exposure to imagery and audio descriptions about what happened in the event, understand that repeated exposure can increase the risk of anxiety and / or other issues. So, minimising this is a good idea, without burying your head in the sand. Completely shielding yourself or children is probably unrealistic in today’s world - and its better that you’re there to help them manage their emotions rather than your kids hearing about it when no adults are around to support them. Avoid talking about the gory details - some of the eye witness testimonies that are being aired at the moment could be quite detailed and distressing, so it’s best to minimise exposing your children to that. And you may wish to advise older children that its easy to end up chasing details on the internet, so helping them to limit that is good - and quite firmly if necessary.
Helpful things to say include locating this in the overall scheme of things - that these events are very rare. It’s probably better not to lie if asked if this could happen here in New Zealand, but talking about how rare the possibility is and how people are going to be extra carefully on the lookout now is realistic and helps to reassure them. And try not to change your routines or plans to go to events.
Teachers will also be likely to be talking about this over the next few days - children and young people are curious and want to know what happened. I think it is reasonable to expect that teachers will let children and young people to ask questions about the attack, but also emphasising the shared sense of community, safety and protection in the school environment. Just as at home, structure and routines are important - they help to create a sense of calm, predictability, and real safety.
I also did this show for Radio New Zealand after the Kaikoura earthquakes in November 2016. Much of what is contained here about talking with children after that event is relevant here too. Feel free to have a listen.