More than 21,000 people were enjoying an Arianna Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in England a few days ago when a suicide bomber killed 22 people and left 59 injured. The terrorists’ target was the children and teenagers who comprised a large portion of the crowd. By comparison, the U.S. has suffered fewer than 10 deadly attacks—with less than 100 deaths since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Facts about Threats for Adults and Children

From a statistical point of view, it may be that we are disproportionately worried about terrorist attacks and other events given that they are so rare. People are more likely to pay attention to the things that scare them, which lead them to believe the events are more common than they really are. The following are a few statistics about how people feel about these events and the number of individuals who are affected by them.

  • A poll conducted by Chapman University reported that 38.5 percent of Americans were afraid or very afraid of being the victim of terrorism. There were 71 people killed by terrorism between 2005 and 2015 in the U.S.
  • The number of people attacked by sharks between 2000 and 2009 has nearly doubled since the 10 years before that. There were 186 total shark attacks in the entire 20 years.
  • Travelers are told they are at a high risk of getting the Zika virus in places where the disease is present, such as Brazil and Mexico. The best estimates report that only 1.8 people for each million tourists would have contracted the Zika virus at the Rio Olympics.
  • Metacognitive awareness is being aware of what you do and do not know and your ability to understand, control and manipulate the cognitive process. This is important when people try to think about and estimate the frequency of events. (The memory is biased by positive instances. Going swimming and not being attacked by sharks is not surprising, so it is not particularly memorable. Memory sometimes fails to provide representative samples of evidence, so we need to think carefully about the bias in memory retrieval and in the samples available to us in the world.)
  • When you want to work out how rare an event is, think about all the times it did not happen—negative instances—rather than those when it did.
  • It is now much more difficult for foreign terrorists to get into the U.S. than it was before September 11, 2001.

Dealing With Children and the News of Devastating Events

Your children and teens have probably heard the news of the most recent terror attack and others on the radio and television. It is hard not to notice with their minute-by-minute details, interviews with people who were at the scenes, as well as television footage of victims who were killed. They also get the information from newsfeeds on their cell phones and hear about it from their friends and at school. It is likely they have seen and heard about the devastation, especially in a world that is “connected” to every news source available. Children may feel threatened by the recent barrage of terror attacks around the world. They can’t even comprehend why somebody would intentionally kill another person let alone a few dozen people. The fact is you, as a parent, may be feeling anxious about the news of terrorism and the vile acts terrorists carry out.

How do you explain to your children that they will be safe? How do you try to put it in the language that young children will understand? How do you know if you will be safe? Will there be another attack, and, if so, where will it be the next time?

Tips on Talking to Children About Terrorist Attacks

According to Nicky Cox, editor of First News (a news site for children), even if you manage to shield children from these events, things that happen in the news will be talked about in the school playground or the lunchroom.

“Don’t delay telling your children,” Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, told Time magazine after the Paris attacks in 2015. “It’s very likely that your child will hear about what happened, and it’s best that it comes from you so that you are able to answer any questions, convey the facts and set the emotional tone.”

The following are some suggestions about discussing the recent terrorist attack and other tragic events.

  • Remember to use language and terminology that children will understand.
  • Encourage children to ask questions, and answer them honestly and simply.
  • It is better that your child is armed with the real facts rather than hearing exaggerated, second or third-hand versions of the event. Information is better than misinformation.
  • It might be upsetting for children, but hearing people they trust reassure them can be valuable and comforting.
  • Children should be reminded that they are safe.
  • Children have an acute sense of justice, so it may be helpful to tell them that the person who committed the terrorist act in Manchester, England, was caught by the police and will be punished.
  • Children may worry that their parents or somebody they know may die in a similar incident. You can reassure them first how this sort of danger is extremely rare. Explain to them that if such a thing were to happen, they would be cared for by parents, relatives and other guardians. In addition, reassure them that you don’t expect to die for a very long time.
  • Listen carefully to a child’s fears and worries. It is vital to ensure their concerns are heard and not swept away. Once you find out what they are worried about, you can understand better. Make sure to acknowledge their fears instead of making them feel foolish for being afraid.
  • Avoid complicated and worrisome explanations that may make children more frightened and confused. Children need to be reminded they are safe and secure.

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