In the wake of the Paris tragedies of this past weekend, we are left with feelings of fear, uncertainty, and loss - and so are our kids.
When disaster strikes, our initial reaction is often to shield our children from what happened. We naturally jump into protection-mode, wanting to safeguard our kids from the evils in the world. But, the truth is, our children are going to hear about the terrorist attacks in Paris - and we need to be ready to talk with them when they come to us.
The first thing to do is to figure out what your child knows about the attacks - let them lead the discussion. Build on what they know and then explain what happened in Paris, on an age-appropriate level. You don't need to give them all of the details - just enough so that they feel informed and a dialogue has begun.
Remember to stay calm. It’s important to try and stay calm as you talk through the events. Children pick up their cues from their parents so if you act anxious they will be anxious. Trust your instincts too. Kids vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability. You know your kid and what they can handle better than anyone.
Finally, you need to reassure them that they are safe. Psychologists suggest that being able to answer all their questions is not as key as just being around to help them process the news and help them to feel safe and loved. Don't dismiss their questions or their fear - these emotions are real to them and they need to know that you're there to support them during this difficult time.
If kids really are still afraid after your reassurances, Paul Coleman, author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces, has a handy acronym of things to do: SAFE
S: . Ask what else is on their mind about what happened, what their friends say about it and what their biggest worry is right now. “The goal is to not assume your child is okay because it would make you—the parent—more at ease to believe that is so,” he says. “Some children may not speak up about their fears or may be unable to articulate them without a parent’s willingness to ask questions.”
Do you have any tips to add when talking with your kids or students about this heart-wrenching tragedy?