Talking to children about terrorism
This morning I sat down with my son and told him about yesterday’s terrorist attack in London.
In the past when there have been other attacks in Tunisia, Nice, Paris, Brussels and so on I have tried to shield him. We don’t have television news on anyway during the day but I like to listen to Radio 4’s Today programme but I have always made sure it remained switched off on those days and I also pick up my newspapers as soon as they are delivered and put them out of sight.
This morning was different. My son is now at primary school and the children there range in age from 7 to 11. I felt there was a high likelihood that yesterday’s attack in Westminster would be discussed in the playground. I didn’t want my son to hear fragments of what had happened and possibly feel even more scared and worried than he would anyway be.
But how do you tell a small child about something so horrendous as yesterday’s murders without making them scared of going about their normal life?
He knows bad things sometimes happen in the world. We have discussed the plight of people in Syria and other war zones and horrendous as that is, I have always been able to say that long way away for us… not this time.
I told him that a very sad thing had happened yesterday in London. That a very bad man who was sick in the head had done some terrible things. That he had deliberately run some people over in the street and that sadly they had died. Then, I said, the man had tried to get into the Houses of Parliament. I said that a very brave policeman had stopped him but that this very courageous policeman had been attacked with a knife by the man and that he too had sadly died. I told him that other brave police officers, doctors and nurses and a member of parliament had tried to save him but that he had been too badly hurt.
I told him that the very bad man had then been shot by other brave police officers and was now dead. This I felt was particularly important for him to know.
I said that although this was a terrible, terrible event, it was fortunately very rare and that our police work very hard to protect us at all times.
We talked about the policeman who had died. I told him that I thought there was no greater sacrifice that a person could give but to give up their life to save the lives of others, just as this brave man had done.
I said that the man who had done the terrible thing was sick in the head. I said that he might have thought he was doing it for his religion but that if he had thought that that he had a wrong and that he had a twisted view of what he thought he believed in. I didn’t mention Islam.
I do not think of myself as politically correct but I genuinely don’t believe that these disgusting, deluded, cowardly terrorists represent anyone other a small sick twisted band of lunatics who may claim they are doing these things for their god but actually represent no one. I do not think they represent other Muslims any more than I think the largely white, “Christians” who have carried out mass shootings in the United States or that Alexandre Bissonnette who is accused of murdering six worshippers at the mosque in Canada in February represent other Christians.
Most people, I told my son, are good and decent people.
Then we talked about why I had told him about yesterday. I told him I didn’t want him to be scared but that other people at school might talk about it.
Then – and this I felt was really important – I told him he should be thoughtful when it came to talking about it with other children. I said he should think about how other children would feel and that perhaps he might want to not bring up the subject, particularly with children younger than himself. I said that their Mums and Dads might not have wanted to talk about it to them or may not have yet had the time to explain what had happened, especially ones with other younger children in their families who were definitely too young to be told what had happened.
I took particular trouble to mention that he should be thoughtful around one of his good friends, who has a parent who is a police officer. I thought it was quite likely that this child would be aware of what happened as they have older siblings and I wanted my son to think carefully about how this child would be feeling if he knew what had happened yesterday or if the subject came up. After all, the children of the PC Keith Palmer would have seen their dad go off to work yesterday and obviously not have expected that he would not come home.
Above all I told my son not to worry. I said that horrible as yesterday events were, they are mercifully rare. I told him that if he wanted to talk about how he felt about what I had told him then he could, at any time – and that I was always there if he wanted to talk about anything. I will tell him that again tonight.