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Talk to Children About Terrorism

The availability of news 24 hours a day means children can learn about events such as the terrorist attack in Manchester, England. (NDSU photo) The availability of news 24 hours a day means children can learn about events such as the terrorist attack in Manchester, England. (NDSU photo)
Sean Brotherson, NDSU Extension family science specialist (NDSU photo) Sean Brotherson, NDSU Extension family science specialist (NDSU photo)
Adults need to help children cope with and process events such as the terrorist attack in Manchester, England.

Children in the Midwest may not be affected directly by the events surrounding this week’s terrorist attack in Manchester, England, but they may be frightened or confused about what it means, according to a parenting specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

“The news reports may not be intended to alarm children, but the 24-hour media coverage, as well as parents and other adults around them watching the television screen and discussing the tragedy, makes it virtually impossible to shield children from the fact that the adults in their life are concerned and upset,” says Sean Brotherson, NDSU Extension Service family science specialist.

School responses and other security measures in the community also heighten children’s level of concern and anxiety. For many children, the fact this attack occurred at a concert with a well-known entertainer (Ariana Grande) and with many children and teens attending may be especially disturbing.

“The heightened level of attention and stress makes it all the more necessary for adults in their lives, such as parents, teachers, child-care providers and grandparents, to help children cope and process this event,” Brotherson says.

An NDSU Extension Service publication, “Talking to Children About Terrorism,” available at, offers age-appropriate responses for parents and others to use in talking to children about terrorism.

Here is some of the information and advice from that publication for various age groups:

  • Young children - Preschool children will be very confused by these events. Many young children do not know how to tell if something happened to them or other people. They will be very sensitive to what adults are feeling. Young children can be an important asset to adults at this time, too. Holding and hugging young children can be reassuring to adults and children.
  • Elementary school children - Some school-age children will want explanations of the events and the factors involved. Assessing each child's level of understanding is important to see if he or she is capable of understanding the difference between the news media reports and the entertainment shows they’re used to watching. Help school-age children understand where the attacks occurred and where the city is in relation to your location. The children will benefit from expressing their ideas in various forms, such as drawing and other creative art, writing and music. Children also would benefit from taking some kind of action, such as writing letters or cards of support.
  • Adolescents - This age group will want more details and will have more skills and coping strategies to deal with the event, but they still will not deal with it the same way as adults. Because adolescents tend to look at the world in a black-and-white fashion, they may want to know who the bad and good guys are. Guiding them toward separating the evil of the event from the value of people would be helpful. Adolescents easily could take the emotions of the event as a call to paint entire groups as enemies or evil. Reinforce that using violence, whether it is a fist, a bomb or another weapon, is never the best way to deal with frustration or anger.
  • Young adults - While people in this age group often feel invulnerable, events this traumatic may shake their certainty. Young adults will be more knowledgeable than children about the nature of the attacks and the consequences, and their fears will be more realistic. Older adults can help them keep this in perspective and guide them to positive outlets, such as collecting money for victims, or attending a vigil or memorial service.

For additional information about how to help children cope with crisis or disaster, contact Brotherson at 701-231-6143 or; NDSU Extension family science specialist Kim Bushaw at 701-231-7450 or; or your county office of the NDSU Extension Service.

NDSU Agriculture Communication - May 23, 2017

Source:Sean Brotherson, 701-231-6143;
Source:Kim Bushaw, 701-231-7450;
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391,
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