Terrorism: What to Say to Children

When an act of terrorism happens, at home or abroad, words are hard to come by. There are no right or wrong words to use. There are, however, approaches that parentsand educators can use to help children deal with these horrific situations in a constructive manner, and help lessen their fear and anxiety.

  • Remain in control
    It is important to remain in control when talking with children or students. Children look to parents and adult role models to see how they should react. Expressing sadness, shock and other emotions is appropriate as long as you remain in control. If you feel emotionally overwhelmed and are having trouble keeping yourself together, express these feelings and emotions with another adult, spouse and not with children.
  • Maintain route and structure
    Route and structure are important to children and adults alike. Try to keep things as normal as possible. Structure helps keep children calm. As hard as it may be to separate from your loved ones, keep your children in school. They are with friends, teachers and in a safe location. Teachers and friends are a form of support and will help you and your children deal with the horrific act.
  • Grieving is okay
    Remember that grieving is normal and okay to share with your children. In the wake of 9-11, the nation and the world grieved with the American people and all those personally affected. It's important to teach children that crying and sadness are normal. One way to express ourselves when sad things happen is through tears, and one does not need to be afraid to cry.
  • A young child asks, "Why?"
    Children want their questions answered. Consider responses they will understand. A good response to "Why?" might be, "Bad people in this world who wanted to make a statement were behind this very bad event. Their thoughts were bad and sick, therefore, the way they went about making their statement was hurtful to a lot of people. The government is looking for them and will find them, and punish them for the bad things they did." It is alright to say you don't have an answer to a question that is asked, or that you need to think about what they have asked before you can answer them. Sometimes we just don't have answers.
  • Avoid blaming
    Some children may take out their fear and anxiety on children of other nationalities, feeling someone from the other’s country was responsible for this act. We need to teach children how to deal with their feelings without pointing fingers or blaming others. For example, after the attacks of 9-11, some people were overwhelmed by fear and anger and lashed out at Arab-Americans and Muslims. It is important to help our children and the community at-large to be mindful that there are thousands of Arab-Americans and Muslims who love America and the American flag. The people responsible for the acts of September 11 were terrorists and only represent a very small number of people.