Parents

How to talk to your children about terrorism and their resulting anxieties

When we turn on the news and see reports of yet another terrorist attack, it's only natural to feel fear, vulnerability, sadness, and anger. For young children, most of whom don't yet have the experience or perspective to deal with traumatic news stories, such reports can yield far more extreme emotions, including sheer panic.

Even as adults, it can be tough to cope with our own anxieties on the issue. But it's important to proactively reach out and deal with the worries of your children.

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In wake of Manchester bombing, how to talk to your kids about terror

Play Video - 2:36

In wake of Manchester bombing, how to talk to your kids about terror

Play Video - 2:36

First, make sure you're in control of your own emotions. Know the basic facts of the situation, avoid frightening rumors, try not to obsess over the issue or change your daily routine, and seek therapy if you've become unusually agitated or distressed.

Then, be there for your kids. Gail Saltz, M.D., psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, columnist, bestselling author, and television commentator, gave us the following tips on coping with terror anxiety in children.

Don’t let young children watch news reports for an extended period of time.

"It will frighten them, and appear to them as though something is actually happening over and over again," says Saltz. Media overexposure can result in a more dramatic, heightened interpretation of the day's events, and besides, there's no need to have your children see the same graphic or otherwise unsettling footage over and over.

Talk to older children candidly about the incident.

"Explain to older children what has happened, because they will hear it and be frightened that you thought it was too awful to tell them and so kept it secret," adds Saltz. But stick to the basic story: "Give them only facts they need to know ... not gory details." Knowing about an issue that's at the forefront of the national and international conversation is crucial to your children's understanding of the world at large (and their place in that world). But an excess of details isn't necessary; in fact, these can only cause more trauma.

Remind children that they can discuss the event and their anxieties with you.

"Tell them they can talk with you about their fears or concerns," Saltz concludes. "Remind them that [the location of the terrorist activity] is far away and that their family is safe — that's what children really want to know." At the end of the day, as compassionate as they may be, children will tend to think back on their own lives and worry that they, too, are at risk of being impacted by the same violence they see on TV. Remind them that that's not the case, and that even attacks that are enormous in scale are still rare occurrences.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 22, 2016, and updated on May 23, 2017.

Related stories:

6 tips for keeping your kids safe in crowded places

How to talk to children about violence in the news: An age-by-age guide

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