“Was everybody okay, Mummy?” What my young children don’t need to know about terrorism

After arriving back home from the school run yesterday afternoon, my What’s App group phone messenger beeped with a message from one of my close friends:

“Everyone’s safe and nowhere near Westminster, right?”

And even before I turned on the telly to see the news, my gut feeling told me what unfortunately turned out to be true, that there had been the terrorist attack that everyone had been dreading, right in the heart of London. 

After messaging friends and family to check everyone was ok (living in London, there are LOTS of people who we know who could’ve been potentially caught up in the horror that unfolded), it struck me that whilst I was deeply saddened by what had taken place, it actually didn’t shock me in quite the same way as it might have done a couple of years ago. 

Which is awful, thinking about it, and actually probably shocks me more than the actual event, that it can be relatively easy to become desensitised by the sheer number of terror attacks that are occurring across the Europe, the states, and the rest of the world right now, in particular these apparent ‘lone ranger’ attacks. 

Whilst not thankfully an every day occurrence, it’s not wholly unusual, and I think that anyone living here must have known deep down that a terror attack in the UK, in London, was pretty much inevitable. 

I switched on the news, which by that point was a rolling commentary from Westminster, mindful of the fact that my 4 and 6 year old were nearby and arguing about the contents of the snack box. The 6 year old lifted his head at the mention of Westminster and the site of Big Ben, a place we see on a regular basis as our train chunters over the Thames from leafy, seemingly safe, zone 5. He then saw the car used in the attack, crunched against the railings, and asked what had happened.

This is a parenting moment where you have a big decision to make- do you tell a little white lie, or do you tell your children that there are some not very nice people about, and skirt around any questions asked about said not-very-nice-person and terrorism in general?

Obviously the age of your child plays a big part in this. If mine had been older I would have gone with the latter. But I decided to go with the former, telling a little white lie about what had happened. At 4, S wasn’t particularly interested anyway, but Freddie is a totally sensitive little sponge, and his anxiety would have shown through the million questions he would have asked. And ones I’m not prepared to answer now. 

Whilst we’re bringing both children up to be aware of the world around them, at age 6, I don’t think Freddie needs to know about terrorists and nasty people potentially roaming the streets of our home city. 

I want him to be able to wave his Daddy off to work as he heads to London to see a client, safe in the knowledge that statistically is he still more likely to return home that evening than not, and I want him to enjoy our trips up to central London still without having a fear of who or what might be around the corner. 

So I told him that there had been a car accident and that the car had crashed into the railings. 

“But was everybody okay?” he said.

And again, I told him a little, well actually, a big fat white lie.

“Yes, everyone will be okay. Look can you see all the people helping them?”

And with that he happily went back to the snack box and his toy planes.

Whilst my reassurance about the incredible helpers part is true, as we know this morning, the rest most certainly isn’t. Two little girls didn’t have their mummy come home last night; a policeman and father didn’t finish his shift.

But I did this because even though it’s so close to home for us, our little ones deserve at least another few years of maintaining their innocence and not having anything to fear, wherever possible. 

Fear is something that terrorists want to spread like a disease, to stop us doing all the things we love to do. 

And whilst we, as parents, will always remain vigilant (heck, I’m the first to silently work out our potential escape route when we go anywhere in the city), it’s not our children’s job, and I refuse to let the terrorists stop our family from enjoying living, working and playing in our favourite city in the world. 

 

How do you talk to your children about terrorism? I’d love to hear opinions from all ends of the spectrum.

8 thoughts on ““Was everybody okay, Mummy?” What my young children don’t need to know about terrorism”

  1. I think this is the right way forward for Isla too just now. She gets v upset at Disney films so definitely isn’t ready for real life tragedies. I think the first news story that I really remember and got fixated on was Jamie Bulger and I must have been a young teen so I guess I was quite protected too as a child x

    1. Freddie gets very upset by Disney films too (we can’t watch The Lion King and Finding Nemo right now!), so I just don’t think he’s ready to hear about that sort of thing. Glad to know that I’m not alone x

  2. For older children, we’ve found ‘The Week Junior’ newspaper explains world events in an approachable and understandable way for children without necessarily shying away from things like terrorist attacks. My 9 year old asked me what had happened in London today on our way home from school. I explained the facts, and she knew about the background because of her reading.

    1. Thanks for your comment Nicola, that’s a great idea for slightly older ones to have a news source that is relatable to them and that explains things- I’ll definitely look into this for my two for when they’re a little older.

  3. Our eldest are 8 and 6 and both were aware something had happened near Big Ben – a favourite of ours too. I totally understand your point – my big boy still hates Finding Nemo, always has – so we’re fairly strict on sensitive issues and all viewing in general (the eldest thinks too strict – I’m not budging!) We tend to err on the side of telling them how it is but only as much as they need to know. So when there were windows smashed in the riots five or so years ago and our eldest asked we did tell him that some people were angry about how things were but didn’t make good choices in how to work that anger out and other people just make choices that hurt others. And on Wednesday when they had heard Daddy talking to friends checking they were safe we did talk to them about how some people try to change people’s views through scaring and hurting them which is not ok, how it is important to respect what other people choose to believe because it’s not our job to make their choices for them, how people sometimes choose bits from holy books to justify what they want to do but that doesn’t mean that is what the religions teach, and how the people who help others are the heroes and the ones to remember – there were so many more helping others than trying to hurt them. I think as they get older I want to be able to know I had a role in opening their eyes slowly to the world rather than someone in the playground do it – maybe not helpfully. There was talk at school the next day and so I’m glad our school handles this sort of thing so well. With the kids becoming aware as they grow up of who believes what I want our kids to be children who respect that and have everything they need to make their own choices – but I think only parents know when the time is right for their children. There’s definitely no hard and fast rule – just so sad we have to figure out when to share this at all….

    1. Thanks for your comment Sarah, I love your explanation of ‘people getting angry but not making good choices’, I think this is the route I’ll go down when we start to explain such things to the children. Makes it easier to understand but doesn’t totally cover it up.

  4. My kids are a similar age and while I talk with them about lots, and at 7 C’s questions are coming thick and fast, I’m generally guided by them in what we discuss.

    It’s tricky because I want them to be aware and would rather them learn hard truths from us rather than say in the playground, but to also keep that precious innocence as long as possible.

    We’re walking a tightrope.

    Ps – you’ve reminded me of my childhood hero Mister Rogers, ha! i was seeking some quite inspiration for my Insta and you’ve helped me find it 🙂 x

    1. Ah glad to be of help re Mister Rogers, haha! It definitely is a tightrope. I never want to mollycoddle my kids but at the same time they’re only little and innocent once, it’s so hard to make the right decisions 🙁 x

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