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War and terrorism touch our children's lives, too

How to talk to kids about war and terrorism

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War and terrorism are difficult subjects to talk to children about because they are not easy even for the parents or teachers to comprehend or accept. However, it is needful that adults discuss these topics with children and teens because they are exposed to them from all directions.

One of the most important things is to make sure that your child knows he can talk to you, ask questions, and open up about his fears and other emotions. Children and teens need a caring adult they can feel is concerned about them and that they can trust and be open with.

Please see below for some helpful hints for how parents can talk to their children and teens about war and violence in news.


1.  Listen to your child and express emotions together

  • If your child knows about war/terrorism/violent events (most likely), make a special time to discuss these disturbing topics with your kids, but don't force them.
  • crying
    Let your child express her emotions to you freely.  To help, you can try to voice the emotions: ”I see you are feeling sad/angry/scared/etc.“ If children repress fear or grief, they may later have delayed stress symptoms, like sleeplessness, anxiety, nightmares, or even depression.  Sometimes it's easier to release the emotions via drawing, writing, playing, or other creative work.
  • Respect your child's feelings and opinions, even if they are not like your own.  Don't confront your child's way of handling events. If a child feels reassured by saying that things are happening “very far away,” it's usually best not to disagree. The child may need to think about events this way to feel safe.
  • You can share your own emotions and concerns (but not overwhelming the child): “I don't like war either. I don't think it is right what those people are doing.” Remember always that you are giving an example. Your child will pick up your attitudes and reactions to events. So if you are not shaken up by, say, violence in TV
    news, your child will learn to treat it with 'no big deal' attitude as well.
  • If you don't know what else to say, give a hug and say, ”I know this is really hard for you and for me, but I still love you“.
2.  Answer her questions
  • Before answering, it is a good idea to ask your child what she already knows about the topic in question.
  • Be honest with your answers, but choose your words and explanations according to the child's understanding, and don't overload the child with too much information.
  • Try to give answers that give hope and faith and are reassuring, but again, don't lie or give false hope or unrealistic promises.
  • Be ready to answer the same question repeatedly.  As has been found in several studies, even if parents do talk to children about difficult topics, children might later not remember it.  So you need to have these discussions often.  For a child, repeating a question might also be a form of getting reassurance.
  • You dont have to have all the answers. Its okay to say, I dont know, but I will let you know as soon as I understand it better.  The most important thing is that your children can feel  you care about them.

3.  What you can do at home

  • TV
    News: Don't let elementary school children watch news or read newspapers without your presence. It is even better if you can videotape the news broadcast beforehand, check it out, censor the parts you feel are inappropriate, and then watch it together with your child. Younger children than that shouldn't really see news at all for all the violence they contain.

    You can also choose local news stations, which might contain less coverage of terrorism and war, and less news about murders and violent crimes. Videotape the news you want to watch yourself and watch them later, or just watch night news broadcasts.

    Even teenagers can be shaken up and get worried by current news coverage and world events, so it is not safe to let them watch news without supervision either. Their mental health is at stake. Teens have enough to go through without overtly worrying about world circumstances.

    On the other hand, you do not want to compromise what kind of values your children might learn from TV. Watching news might leave the impression that war is something desirable and 'cool', and that it is OK to use violence against people if they are abroad or of different race or just have differing opinions. Teens know about the war so you need to counteract that influence by talking about what is right and what is wrong, and how violence is not the best answer to problems in any level of human interactions.
  • Let children be children. Childhood should be worriless time.  Encourage them to play ball, climb trees, or ride their bike, etc. instead of constantly watching news or reading newspapers. Adolescents could have some kind of hobby they enjoy and that lets them accomplish something tangible. That can take their mind off from disturbing events and let them develop peacefully in their own pace.
  • Keep structure. Hold to routine, schedules, and familiar activities, which can help children feel secure. Instead of watching TV, spend time with your children in other ways and design some fun family activities.
  • Do something positive. Instead of concentrating on the people who died or all the violence, try to find something related that can be looked upon as a positive thing. For example, talk about the brave firefighters and policemen and nurses who helped others during the 9-11 aftermath. You can study together what the American Red Cross or other charities did to help in the rescue work. Encourage your children to do good things to others.
  • If you know a family where one member is deployed, help the family in some way where your children and teens can get involved. For example, offer to do a spring cleaning or take over some food.

    You can also try to find ways how children could help other children to cope and deal with their sad feelings, or to discuss war and violence. Search online.
  • Your example as a parent/adult is outstandingly important. Children and adolescents model after your behavior and attitudes.
  • Seek outside help if your child shows a lot of physical stress symptoms or seems overtly preoccupied by violent play and games, or shows signs of suicidal thoughts.

See also Children and Fear of War and Terrorism from National Association of School Psychologists (NASAP)


Whether tragic events touch your family personally or are brought into your home via newspapers and television, you can help children cope with the anxiety that violence, death, and disasters can cause.

Listening and talking to children about their concerns can reassure them that they will be safe. Start by encouraging them to discuss how they have been affected by what is happening around them. Even young children may have specific questions about tragedies. Children react to stress at their own developmental level.

The following pointers are from How Families Can Help Children Cope with Fear and Anxiety National Mental Health Information Center:

  • Encourage children to ask questions. Listen to what they say. Provide comfort and assurance that address their specific fears. It's okay to admit you can't answer all of their questions.
  • Talk on their level. Communicate with your children in a way they can understand. Don't get too technical or complicated.
  • Find out what frightens them. Encourage your children to talk about fears they may have. They may worry that someone will harm them at school or that someone will try to hurt you.
  • Focus on the positive. Reinforce the fact that most people are kind and caring. Remind your child of the heroic actions taken by ordinary people to help victims of tragedy.
  • Pay attention. Your children's play and drawings may give you a glimpse into their questions or concerns. Ask them to tell you what is going on in the game or the picture. It's an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions, answer questions, and give reassurance.
  • Develop a plan. Establish a family emergency plan for the future, such as a meeting place where everyone should gather if something unexpected happens in your family or neighborhood. It can help you and your children feel safer.
If you are concerned about your child's reaction to stress or trauma, call your physician or a community mental health center.


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