This column was published in the NT Suns Newspaper on March 26 2019, under the title Reassuring your kids.
We are living in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world. Safety and security are paramount issues and frequently the centre of conversations.
Terrorism is increasingly global and no country or region is guaranteed as safe from its impacts. The Christchurch massacre on March 15 showed that to be the case.
Questions about safety and the uncertainty of security affect both adults and children. For children, one of the most significant impacts has been the requirement that schools develop lock down policies. Policies are periodically drilled for the sake of awareness, so that if schools are under threat they can be safely implemented.
Children of all ages are very aware of what is happening in the world. ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’ elements of life are constantly brought to their attention through media and by listening and contributing to conversations.
Sarah Parry and Jez Oldfield wrote that “While adults often have enough life experience to … take a long term perspective toward such disasters, children can face different challenges.” ( How to talk to children about terrorism, The Conversation, June 5, 2017.) Events such as the Christchurch massacre cause children to “… experience much higher levels of distress than usual. … this can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, … (children) becoming very snappy … withdrawn … not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Op cit)
Shielding children from confronting reality does not work and is an unhelpful strategy. Parry and Oldfield write that “… young people today are exposed to anxiety provoking information like never before. Rather than shielding children from inevitable stressors, we need to focus on arming them with balanced information, compassion, hope and the chance to develop their resilience.” (Op cit)
Rather than hiding the horror of terrorism from children, frank discussion, including answering their questions, is a wiser approach. Parry and Oldfield suggest the following strategies.
• Ask children how they feel about what they have seen or heard. Then address their feelings.
• Remind children that helpers of those distressed are the real heroes. Discuss their bravery, decency and morality.
• Be conscious of the need to “ … enhance children’s confidence, sense of bravery, ability to problem solve and develop their moral compass” through empathetic and understanding parental support.
• Sorting the truth from myth and misinformation that circulates after tragedy, helps children keep things in perspective.
• Be conscious of the need to reassure young people about parental and adult care for their safety. Parry and Oldfield (op cit) offer wise words. “ Being able to reassure young people that they are safe, loved and cared for can make all the difference.”
These considerations are paramount in helping children during uncertain times.