A child psychologist explains how to talk to kids about the Paris attacks and terrorism

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/ Getty.

As our television screens and radio stations are flooded with the atrocities coming out of Paris, children can become curious about what is happening.

When terrorism is a topic even adults struggle to discuss, explaining it to your kids can be a daunting task.

So what do you say? What shouldn’t you say? How much information do you allow them to know?

Business Insider asked child psychologist Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic for advice on explaining what happened in Paris, and terrorism generally, to kids.

Here’s what she had to say.

Limit exposure to the media

“I recommend parents avoid exposing their children to media in relation to terrorism, particularly because children are susceptible to vicarious trauma triggered by visual information,” said O’Brien.

She suggests turning off the news and being mindful of what materials children have access too.

“This requires vigilance given the number of screens and newspaper images children may encounter on a daily basis,” she says.

“Pictures of dead bodies, violence or people experiencing grief can trigger anxiety responses, such as nightmares, food refusal, bedwetting, insecurity or separation anxiety.”

Make sure they feel safe

“If children are exposed to images or broadcasts in relation to terrorism, it is likely this will trigger questions in relation to their own safety and those around them,” she says.

“Reassure children by assuring them that it is the parent’s role to maintain their sense of safety and security.

“Be open to their questions by writing them all down (this will give parents more time to consider an age-appropriate response). Parents and carers are advised to monitor their own emotional responses to terrorism as children take their cues from the adults around them.”

Don’t go into specifics

While the number of terrorism incidents in the media has recently increased in Australia, the extent of coverage around the Paris attack might have children asking a specific questions.

O’Brien suggest rather than talking about “terrorism” or other such words be general in your responses.

“If children specifically ask about the incident in Paris, be general by referring to ‘an incident’ and be reassuring, by confirming ‘it’s over now’,” she said.

What NOT to say

“Avoid emotive language, excessive detail or anger,” says O’Brien, “this will only serve to heighten anxiety and trigger more questions.”

“Children are more likely to eavesdrop on adult conversations when we whisper or change our voice tone. Be mindful of who is listening when discussing the issue of terrorism or related topics.”

Stick to your routines

When things seem confusing or scary for children it is important to make life seem as normal as possible.

O’Brien says that keeping with routine is great way to keep children positive.

“Routines are reassuring for most young people and social opportunities with same-aged peers are an excellent distraction and source of comfort.”

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