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How to explain a terror attack to children – and why you should talk about it

Hanna Fillingham

Following the London terror attack on Westminster Bridge on Wednesday 22 March, the world is coming to terms with what has happened, while children are asking questions. Rather than sheltering them from the news, Winston’s Wish, a charity for children of bereavement recommends parents keep their kids informed of what is happening, to allow for them to have the opportunity to ask questions to someone they trust, rather than hearing the news from someone else. Compiling a list on their website, the charity lists letting your child know how you are feeling and accepting that some things can’t just be ‘made better’ as pointers to remember when talking to your children. The information you tell your children should also be appropriate for their age, using words that are honest, but basic enough for them to comprehend, such as: “‘All this news is because something very bad and very sad happened in Westminster, London. What seems to have happened is that someone attacked other people near the Houses of Parliament; a policeman was killed in the incident. It is very unusual that something like this happens. This is one of the reasons why it is on the news and lots of people are talking about it; it is also because it is very upsetting that something like this could happen. Everyone who has heard the news is very sad and worried.”

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It is advised that parents talk to children about terror attacks so that they can ask questions to someone they trust

Most children want answers that parents can’t always answer. Winston’s Wish suggests that parents approach these questions by being completely truthful: “No-one can completely know why. We know it wasn’t an accident. It’s so, so difficult to understand why anyone would be so cruel as to kill other people.”

Children are likely to ask questions such as “What would happen to me if you were killed,” or fear another incident happening again. While it is impossible for anyone to know, the charity advises to answer with as much reassurance as possible, such as: “‘The police will do all they can to make sure this sort of attack does not happen here. It is really, really unlikely that this will happen to anyone we know. We will keep you safe.”

Winston’s Wish state that it is completely normal for children to communicate through their behaviour after hearing about a distressing or confusing event. While some children might act fearful and want to stay close to their parents, others may act out play fighting to try and communicate what they have heard, which the charity confirm, is completely normal.

To find out more about how to talk to your children, visit Winston’s Wish.

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