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Helping children cope with the Paris attacks

By Eleanor Levy, editor, Parent Zone


The events in Paris on Friday 13th November have shocked us all.

The latest in a series of devastating terrorist incidents, they came one day after a double suicide bombing in Beirut left over 40 people dead, and a month after more than 90 people died at a peace rally in Ankara. Earlier on Friday, 18 people had died when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral in Baghdad.

The fact the Paris attacks occurred on our doorstep, in a city so many people in the UK have visited, means it has inevitably dominated news reports and social media activity since.

The blanket coverage of such events can be upsetting for everyone, but it will be particularly disturbing and confusing for children, many of whom will be using social media for information on both what happened in Paris, and the response.

As usual, social media reacted with a combination of solid fact, emotional eyewitness accounts, unfounded speculation and, courtesy of the reaction to Sky TV’s Kay Burley’s ill judged ‘sadness in his eyes’ tweet about a dog on the streets of Paris, gallows humour.

So how do those charged with looking after young people help them take in and cope with events such as these?

Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media, argues that calmness, reassurance and communication tailored to the needs of the individual child are the key.

David Barnett, writing for website The Pool, advises, 'Children want context, they want reassurance, and they want not to be talked down to or ushered out of the room because this is “adult stuff”'. 

Some tips to remember

  • Explain to the children in your care that even though the story is getting lots of attention, what happened in Paris is a relatively rare occurrence. That’s WHY it’s getting so much attention.

  • If you can appear calm, they will feel calmer themselves and be reassured.

  • For younger children – if you want to help them avoid the news, turn off the TV and radio while they are in the room and don’t read a paper in front of them. The images and headlines will be dramatic and upsetting. If they show interest, encourage them to talk about how they feel.  
    As David Barnett says,'The thing to remember as a parent is that if you don’t explain what’s going on to your kids, then somebody else will. That might be someone in the playground, and it might not be the message you’d necessarily want to have your children take from such an event.'

  • For older children and teens – by this age, they will most likely be getting information from their own sources, some of which will be unreliable or biased. Listen to their views and encourage them to question what they are reading or hearing.

Part of growing up is coming to terms with the fact that the world can be a scary and dangerous place. Part of our role as adults is to help the young people in our care develop the resilience to learn how to cope with this reality.


Image: Sam Valadi CCBY2