How to Talk with Your Kids about the Threat of Terrorism

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We woke up this morning to horrible news out of Brussels.

Another terrorist attack.

Reports say there were shouts in Arabic before a suicide bomber killed at least 14 people at the Brussels airport. A second blast took 20 more lives during rush hour at a metro train in the capital.

And so once again, a scant four months after the terrorist attacks in Paris, we’re seeing how hatred wreaks destruction and death – and it’s all playing out on our TV and computer screens.

This is our global reality. Groups like ISIS have realized how vulnerable metropolitan areas are, and they are taking advantage of that weakness. They promise to continue attacking cities, including some in the United States. The FBI and counterterrorism officials are on high alert and expressing deep concerns.

It’s all very sobering and disconcerting. Horrors are seemingly everywhere. There are many aspects of this situation that demand our attention. For parents, one of those is how we can help our children understand and process the evil that is happening.

I’ve shared this information before, but because of today’s tragedy, I want to share it again. Focus’ counselors have some age-specific advice I’d like to share with you.

Toddlers to age 7: PROTECT and ASSURE

During these early years, parents can best serve their children by shielding them from scary realities as much as possible. This might mean adults will have to turn off the news when a young child is in the room.

It also means that parents should try their best to control their own emotions in front of young children, and even infants. Little ones are barometers of the social and emotional environment they’re in, so parents need to be the thermostat. And while it’s natural for us to get upset or angry when terrorist attacks victimize innocent people, we should remember young children will reflect our anxiety, which can manifest itself in various ways, including nightmares.

Finally, at this age, let your kids know, through actions and words, that Mom and Dad are with them, and that they are loved. That will help infants, toddlers and young elementary-aged children feel secure. 

School-aged children: LABEL and ROLE MODEL

While older children are starting to understand more about the world around them, that doesn’t mean they necessarily comprehend what’s going on inside. That’s why parents may notice their older elementary-aged children not being themselves, or even acting out – these children are merely trying to express what they can’t put into words.

So if you find your child acting strangely, where 1 + 1 = 5, understand there’s a reason for it. Look to what may be going on emotionally and socially from your child’s frame of reference. A glimpse beneath the surface might reveal your son or daughter is confused by a sense of helplessness, or overwhelmed by feelings of anger or fear.  He or she might be experiencing nightmares – even fearing a “boogie man” because they can’t logically express what they feel.

Parents can help their children by labeling the emotions they may be experiencing. Saying something like, “Honey it’s OK to be upset because things are scary in our world right now, aren’t they?” can provide immediate relief to some children.

Parents should also provide children in this age range with concrete assurance of their physical well-being. They can point out the family is blessed to have a home and food in the pantry.

Finally, parents need to be very intentional in living out their faith. Role-modeling deeply impacts children in this age range, so let your child know it’s natural to be fearful at times, but that we should take our fears and doubts to the Lord in prayer. Give them Scripture and pray with them, because it’s good for them to hear your prayers. Impress on them that God, not government, is our protector, that He loves us and He’s with us.

Teenagers: LISTEN and RESPOND

At this point in a child’s life, he or she is able to look at things in a quasi-adult fashion and analyze the situation with more logic. Teenagers are a diverse bunch and along a long continuum, so it’s more important than ever for parents to really listen so they can figure out what’s going on inside their teen’s heart and mind. Listening closely will also help you avoid planting new fears, because you’ll be meeting them where they’re at.

Once you engage in this sincere conversation, talking about the news and digging to understand your teen’s fears and concerns, you’ll be able to address and problem-solve the specific issues your teen is dealing with. You can start out with logic – “This is what the FBI is doing to crack down on sleeper cells” – but ultimately you’ll want to take them to Scripture. Direct them to passages of hope, protection and comfort. Help them realize that believers should have an eternal focus that transcends temporary earthly fears.

It’s my prayer these few words of advice will help you navigate some of the challenging parenting situations that all too often arise living in a sinful, broken world.

I’m interested in hearing from you. What questions have your children asked about terrorism? How have you handled their concerns and doubts? Let me know in the comments section. Your response might help another mom or dad out.