Talk to children about terrorism - experts

  • 16/11/2015

With saturation media coverage of the Paris attacks, parents are asking if they should talk to their children about the killings - and how they should go about it.

Most child psychology experts believe that children should be told, but warn that parents have to be careful not to allow them to be overwhelmed by fear or horror at what happened.

Above all, they must not let their own emotions or anguish intrude.

Bernard Golse, head of paediatric psychology at France's leading children's hospital, Necker, said the subject can even be broached with very young children "from the age of three".

"They feel the anguish and anxiety of adults. Not saying anything is even more worrying for them because they imagine it is worse than it is," he said.

"There isn't a wrong way of talking about it. But not talking about it is always bad."

Psychologist Jeanne Siaud-Facchin argued that before the age of six it is better "to spare" children because until then they do not have the "capacity to understand".

"There are no rules," she said, "but I think it is essential to leave them in their child's world and not to expose them to (these kind of) images or words because they will only take emotions without understanding their meaning. The only thing that they will understand is raw and worrying fear," she said.

But if they ask questions, parents should not lie, Siaud-Facchin added.

"Better to keep it a bit hazy. Say that 'fighters have attacked the country' or that you are worried because serious things have happened in the world of adults that does not concern them," she added.

"Some parents say to themselves wrongly that they have to be absolutely truthful to their children. But children are used to us not talking to them about certain things."

With children aged six and upwards it is vital to talk about the subject, Siaud-Facchin said - particularly if it is likely to come up at school, either brought up by teachers or in the playground.

But how do we explain such terrible things to them? Above all, avoid using words like "carnage", "massacre" or "bloodbath".

In a society saturated with information it is hard to hide the front pages, but "if they hear or see things that can terrify them, parents are there to act as decoders", Siaud-Facchin said.

"If children are scared, tell them it's okay, that you are too. But reassure them by saying they're not in danger, that protective measures are taken in France and that you're there to protect them," she said.