Explaining the London terror attacks to young children – Devon Live

Saturday night’s terrorist attack in London was the third to hit the UK in less that three months.

Three suspects in a white van hit pedestrians on London Bridge, before driving to nearby Borough Market and stabbing revellers and a police officer.

The suspects, who were wearing hoax explosives, were shot dead by police just eight minutes after emergency services were first alerted to the incident.

But how do we explain the horror of last night’s events to our children?

Winston’s Wish, a charity for bereaved children, has put together a list of frequently asked questions and suggestions on how to support children and young people who may be affected by the incident.

The charity explains: “As the days after this incident pass, there may be more coverage of people grieving. Children may well find these upsetting to watch and this may provide an opportunity for more honest communication and expression of thoughts and feelings.

“Online memorials and vigils in town centres to show sympathy for the people who have died and their families may also trigger questions.

“We know that we cannot shield children from these painful events and that attempting to do so can have negative consequences.

“No child has ever told us they were glad someone lied to them about a death. However, there are studies that show repeatedly watching tragic events, such as the planes flying into the building on 9/11 may have negative psychological consequences (for adults and children).”

Read next: Councillor defends tweet calling Corbyn a ‘terrorist lover’ following London attack

The charity suggests remembering the following:

  • Talk to children using words they understand; give information to younger children a bit at a time
  • Try and encourage children to ask questions
  • Answer questions honestly and simply; talking about it won’t make it worse
  • Accept that some things can’t be ‘made better’
  • Show willingness to talk about difficult things and use this as an opportunity to reassure them
  • If children are asking questions, it is a good thing – it shows they trust you and it is better than keeping questions and worries to themselves
  • Remember that ‘super parents’ or ‘super teachers’ don’t exist. Just do and say what you can
  • Don’t be afraid to show children how you are feeling

Read next: Police issue guidance over what to do in a terror attack

How do you explain this to them?

The explanation can be basic, especially for young children. The charity advises it could be something like:

‘All this news is because something very bad and very sad happened in London. What seems to have happened is that someone attacked other people at a pop concert. It is very unusual that something like this happens. This is one of the reasons why it is on the news and lots of people are talking about it; it is also because it is very upsetting that something like this could happen. Everyone who has heard the news is very sad and worried.’

What to say about the terrorist

The charity says: “It’s really hard to be calm about something this terrible. But, if you find it possible, try and distinguish between bad acts and bad people. Children find the idea of bad people particularly frightening.

“Older children will appreciate more details and the opportunity to explore why people do such desperately terrible things and the way the families are feeling. This can be an opportunity to help young people develop their empathy and reflect on the value of life and relationships.”

What if they are asking why it happened?

If the children want to know ‘why?’ you could say something like:

‘No-one can completely know why. We know it wasn’t an accident. It’s so, so difficult to understand why anyone would be so cruel as to kill other people.’

What if my children are scared that they or I may die?

‘If one of us died for any reason, you would always be looked after by ­­­­­­______ (the other parent/aunt/uncle/granny/family friend). I don’t expect to die for a long time yet’.

‘The police will do all they can to make sure this sort of attack does not happen here. It is really, really unlikely that this will happen to anyone we know. We will keep you safe’.

There are good story books for younger children that address death and provide an age-appropriate way to handle these sensitive but important conversations. Children who are concerned will appreciate a lot of reassurance and maybe more hugs than usual. Keeping a reasonably normal routine going will help them feel secure.

When appropriate, it can be reassuring for children to know that perpetrators have been caught or have died.

  • For more advice on how to explain this or any other difficult topic to children, visit the Winston’s Wish website.

Important contact numbers

The Metropolitan Police has set up a casualty bureau for anyone concerned about a relative who may have been in or around London Bridge or the Borough of Southwark last night.

It is 0800 0961 233.

The Met has also asked that anyone who has images or film of last night’s incidents to pass those to police by uploading it at www.ukpoliceimageappeal.co.uk.

If you have information about possible terrorist activity, call the police anti-terrorist hotline: 0800 789 321.

You can also call Leicestershire Police on 101 to report anything that you consider suspicious or connected with terror

Reporting by Plymouth Herald.


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