Guiding your child through their reaction to the Paris attacks

Based on an article published by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, written by Bonnie Brown, Robin Stern and Dawn DeCosta.

Not quite one week ago, a series of terrorist attacks rocked the city of Paris.

An act of terrorism makes us fear for both our own safety and the safety of those we love and care about. It can cause us to feel vulnerable. It can create an intense and overwhelming emotional response and you may not understand how to cope with these feelings. These same reactions are often true for children. Through this article I will suggest some ways to communicate with your children about the tragedy of the terror attacks in order to help them cope with and navigate their emotional reactions.

Terrorist attacks can be difficult to understand for a number of reasons. First and most fundamentally, people want to know why this happened. It is difficult to comprehend how a group of people can decide to create such devastation on a city of innocent people. In addition, these attacks naturally cause us to question our own safety and whether the same thing could happen in the city where you live. This can especially impact children if they do not understand that these attacks are relatively uncommon, one-off events. Therefore it is important to emphasise that these types of attacks are uncommon and that they are still safe.

pray for paris

Parents and educators alike are all thinking about the best way to approach the subject of the Paris tragedy. There may be an initial urge to avoid the subject and shield the child from the news. Moreover, it can be difficult to attempt to allay their anxiety when we feel the same and to answer questions that we do not yet understand. However, Social and emotional researchers at Yale proposed that the best approach is to be upfront and straightforward.

These researchers suggested that that you must first check-in with your own understanding and feelings toward this tragedy. If you can’t come to terms with your own reactions, how can you expect your child to deal with theirs? Therefore, identify strategies that you use to regulate your ‘RED’ emotion; you may wish to explain how you felt yourself shifting between emotions and how to were able to move from ‘RED’ to ‘GREEN’ emotions as you became calmer over time. This will help to prepare you to help your child as well as create examples for how they may overcome their own ‘RED’ emotions. Just remember, it is important to be authentic and clear about your own feelings and experiences.

Here are a number of suggestions for how to best help your child or student cope with this crisis:

  • Help the child to understand that the emotions they are feeling are normal, whether it be sadness, anger, fear, confusion, even numbness. These feelings are all normal reactions to tragic events. It is best for the child to voice their emotions and accept that it is ok and they should not feel pressure to move towards ‘GREEN’ emotional states.
  • Clearly identify social support as a regulation strategy that we can all use in school, at home and in the community when we want to reduce or prevent uncomfortable feelings.
  • People often find comfort in spending time with the ones they love and by supporting each other. You could suggest to the child that it could be nice to hold a friend’s hand or give someone they love a hug.
  • Although it’s natural to want to know what is happening, don’t spend hours glued to the television set. Taking a break from watching what’s going on in the world is OK. Read, play board games, or go outside.
  • Finally, highlight as many of the following points as you can: that events such as the Paris attacks are very rare and unlikely to occur, the child is loved and cherished by those around them, that there are many more good people in the world than bad and those people are working to make sure that events such as this do not happen again.

These events are difficult for children to understand, however don’t forget about your own psychological and emotional wellbeing. If you are finding it difficult to cope, remember to take care of yourself by talking to a friend or loved one, getting regular sleep and exercise and continuing to take part in activities that you enjoy. While the entire world mourns for those devastated by the attacks on Paris, remember that you do not need to take all of these issues on board, continue to enjoy your precious, wonderful life.




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