"I wouldn't change my children for the world, but I wish I could change the world for my children." Never does this saying ring more true than in the wake of terrible atrocities involving innocent children, like the attacks in Manchester, England on 22 May 2017, and similar attacks that take place all too frequently around the world.
Nightmare scenarios like this are hard enough for adults to process, and our natural instinct might be to try to shield little ones from the real world, or simply to hope that they don't pick up on it. But is this the best way to deal with it? We asked Dr Rose Logan, clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia for her advice:
Reach out to others
In the wake of such attacks it is absolutely normal to feel that the world is less safe and to become more vigilant about your own safety and mortality. It is helpful to reach out to family, friends and others to discuss your feelings. They will quite likely have had a similar reaction and it is comforting to know that you are not alone in how you feel.
Remember the rarity of such events
It is also so important to recognise that such events are rare and that is why they generate so much coverage and send shockwaves around the world. It may feel like they are becoming more frequent if they are now happening where you live or where you are from as they have a greater personal meaning, but sadly they have always happened all around the world although thankfully rarely.
"Children pick up on emotions and hear more than we might imagine or wish"
Don't pretend it isn't happening
Children pick up on emotions and hear a lot more than we might perhaps imagine or wish. If we do not make explicit what is happening and most importantly, what is happening to those closest to them, they will draw their own conclusions based on what they feel and hear. This may include their parents’ own emotions and reactions. This does not necessarily mean presenting them with the detail, rather sitting them down and letting them know that something very sad has happened. Avoid complicated or worrying language and keep the conversation age appropriate. Offer them reassurance and comfort.
Be age appropriate
You can tell a child of any age how you feel but probably around the age of two they will start to have some understanding of emotions such as sadness and how to respond appropriately to someone feeling that way. If you wait for your child to bring questions up, they may already have developed a picture in their own minds of what has happened or is going on. Of course you can invite questions but offer some understanding of the situation as soon as you can.
Limit mainstream media
In general, mainstream media news is not appropriate for young children and even with older children caution should be exercised. Coverage is at times graphic and distressing and the language may be confusing or hard to understand. There are some news programmes specifically for children that present information in a manner that is age appropriate. There are also publications such as The Week that publish a children’s version. It is good for children to understand the wider issues at play in the world but it must be presented in a way that is accessible, child friendly, and age appropriate in content and language.
Put things in context
You cannot shelter them from everything, especially once they start nursery or school, but you can talk about the things they see and hear and help them work out how they can still feel safe. For littler ones it might not be world events but just something in a story: if you read stories with monsters in for example, you can ask them to consider that not all monsters are scary. Or perhaps you get them to think about what they would do if they met a monster in a familiar place like the supermarket or the dinner table and have fun making up conversations! You an help them develop a little tool kit of things they can do if they feel scared such as hugging a favourite teddy, talking to Mum and Dad, imagining the monster with googly eyes or singing a funny song.
Pre-empt worries about other 'dangers'
It's natural that when terrible world events happen we might start to worry about other potential threats, such as 'stranger danger'. I think it is good to introduce language about strangers early, as soon as you feel your child’s language will facilitate a conversation. This will most likely coincide with the time that their independence is growing and their exposure to people beyond the family and other caregivers is increasing. This does not necessarily require a discussion about the potential consequences initially but may do as the child gets older and starts to understand the difference between good and bad. You know your own child and can gauge how they respond to your conversations.
"Build awareness but do not create fear"
Keep conversations brief and playful but with a serious note and of course keep language age-appropriate and stay away from creating fear. You are trying to build awareness and equip them with the confidence to manage situations should they arise. It is important that you don’t just tell them not to go with strangers but that you also coach them so that they know what they can do if someone they don’t know approaches them.
There has also been a proposal more recently, that “stranger danger” is not as helpful a term as it was meant to be. Often danger is posed by someone known to the child so campaigns such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) PANTS campaign aim to protect children from abuse rather than pinpointing potential abusers."
Recognise when it's time to seek help
It is normal to feel shocked, scared and worried at this time. It is likely that many people will feel deeply saddened by the news and in particular the deaths of young children. Some of the images and reports in the news may be extremely harrowing and may be difficult to put to one side. The fact that the recent events in Manchester targeted families and children may make you feel that you want to keep your children and loved ones closer and may make you cautious about where you go in the short term. The UK is a place that many people in the UAE have been to and come from and so it is likely to feel even more shocking if you have a personal link to the area.
Events such as these raise questions about our own security and mortality and that of loved ones. These thoughts can be unwanted and distressing and may prompt us to reach out to loved ones. It is important to express what you are feeing and support those closest to you. Younger children may express or display signs of anxiety distress and regressions in behaviour may occur. They may experience nightmares and become clingier, or they may complain of physical symptoms such as stomachaches.
Most people, of all ages, will return to their normal selves in time and with the support of family and friends. If some of the reactions mentioned above persist beyond a month or so or if the recent events raise questions about your own grief, especially if you are recently bereaved, a consultation with a psychologist or grief counsellor can help. It is possible to access free grief support services at the Raymee Grief Center.
Remember the good side of human nature
There has been such a united condemnation of the most recent attack in Manchester that mirrors the responses to many of the major terror attacks in recent years. There are many stories of human kindness that shine through tragedies such as this where people pull together and support one another not just at the event, but also around the world. During the most recent tragedy stories of taxi drivers working through the night to take people home stand out as an example of the goodness of human nature.