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How to Talk About Terrorism and Tragedy With Children

Written by Marsha Rakestraw | Published on November 30, 2015 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2015/11/30/talk-terrorism-tragedy-children/
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father and son talking in front of sunsetby Marsha Rakestraw

When we read headlines like: “Paris massacre: At least 128 killed in gunfire and blasts” and “Mali hotel terror attack” we can be overwhelmed with grief, rage, despair, fear, and hopelessness. But as adults we have at least some shred of coping mechanisms and an ability (if not the motivation) to understand the deeper issues of such a tragedy.

How do such horrific events affect our young people? How do they view themselves, the world, and their futures after such violence and destruction? How can we help them learn to cope and to gain a deeper understanding (as appropriate) of the issues involved? Here are a few resources that can help educators and parents.

The Washington Post offers suggestions for how to talk with children and young adults about the recent attacks and explores how schools are grappling with how to teach about what’s happening.

Psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell offers suggestions for talking about terrorism with young people and exploring some of the deeper issues, such as justice versus retribution.

The New York Times has posted resources for exploring the attacks in Paris with students in age-appropriate ways.

Facing History has shared a few strategies for exploring events and issues around what happened in Paris.

And the Choices Program has created a Resource Guide on the Terrorist Attacks in Paris to help teachers guide students in exploring these issues.

We can also focus on more heartening and inspiring stories, such as this video of a father in Paris comforting his young son after the attacks. Or this video of a blindfolded Muslim man accepting hugs from Parisians.

There are also many resources for talking in general with young people about tragedies and other sensitive issues. For example:

The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia offers suggestions for talking to children about terrorism.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a guide for talking with children about terrorism and war.

The New York Times also posted an article in 2012 outlining 10 ways to talk to students about sensitive issues in the news.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a guide for parents and educators in talking to young people after traumatic events; it includes tips by age group.

The Terrorism and Disaster Center at the University of Oklahoma offers suggestions for helping students cope with media coverage of disasters.

And in a past blog post we shared 8 tips for discussing challenging global issues, which can help frame how you handle discussing the recent attacks or other traumatic events with your children or students.

It’s vital that we protect children, while also empowering them to be informed, compassionate citizens who are raised to be solutionaries striving for a just, peaceful world for all.