The Paris tragedy will bring with it a lot of fears and anxiety in young children. Some will be able to voice them and some will worry about it unable to ask the questions that are worrying them. It is important that as parents and teachers we support them in this period by ensuring that our own anxiety does not pass on to our children. If you find a child withdrawn or has suddenly started exhibiting different behavior, then maybe talking to the child or helping the child draw his/her emotions and thoughts can help.
Children will have a lot of questions and it is important that if children ask questions about the tragedy and its related factors that we reply to these questions with honesty and simplicity. It is better that they voice their questions to a trusted individual like a parent or teacher rather than being ignored. Our replies will also give them an assurance that the adults are thinking about their safety and they will be able to get back their trust and feel more secure.
5 sensitive questions that children ask about terrorism and how to handle them appropriately.
1. Who is a terrorist?
Ans- A terrorist is a person who hurts others and harms them. Sometimes even killing them.
2. Why were they killing the children?
Ans- They wanted to harm people and they did not think whether the people they are killing are kids or teachers or parents.
3. Were there no guards or policemen to save the people?
Ans- Yes there were and the guards and policemen and they tried their very best to save the people and many were saved too.
4. Will terrorists come to my city/school too?
Ans- Well your mummy and daddy and all of us in school are going to protect you and keep you safe.
5. Will the terrorists be caught and punished?
Ans- Yes, all the police and army will now hunt them down and capture them soon.
Let us not ignore the anxieties that may be plaguing our young children as they see images or hear about the tragedy. Let us keep our children safe and secure in the knowledge that we are there for them. It is time for our own ‘sanitization’ and ‘sensitization’ instead of ‘sensationalism’. Let’s begin with sanitization- removing any left over fears, doubts lurking in their minds-
1. Do not allow your child to be knowingly exposed to visuals of such violence, If you are watching a news telecast that is about the violence then take the time to explain in very simple language what he is seeing and reassure him/her that he/she is safe.
2. While explaining do not use phrases like- ‘these are naughty boys just like you have in your class’, or, ‘see, this is why mummy tells you not to be a naughty boy then you will grow up to be like them’. All this will only worsen the trauma and damage your child’s self esteem, self-confidence and dent his/her self-image.
3. Be very careful that you do not discuss related events in front of your child, even if you think he/she is busy playing with toys or is happily watching a kids channel; they are focusing on you all the time. So be extremely careful.
4. Your children should not hear you say- ‘I am scared, what if this happens to me tomorrow?’, or, ‘what if this happens in my child’s school?’ this will only increase the fear psychosis in your child.
5. Some children may bed wet, start getting scared of the dark, will be clingy and refuse to leave you alone or even start nail biting. Understand, accept and slowly reassure them.
6. Working parents can call them at home more often if they feel that the child is unduly upset. Tell them about where you are and that you are safe, this will reduce their worry. Children get worried too about their parents!
7. Use play therapy to help gain an insight in what is going on in your child’s mind; drawing, block play or doll play are some forms of play in which we come to know about the emotional upheaval going on in their minds.
Let’s use this time now to sensitize ourselves and our children for the future- some ways to sensitize children-
1. Violence has become an accepted way of life for our children, they are exposed to it all the time, hence it is imperative that parents and the school do not condone any kind of violence or violent activities. When your child watches glorified violence with you (in a blockbuster movie) he understands that violence makes my parents happy, and so he will always resort to violence to solve any situation in life, instead teach him conflict resolution.
2. Do not teach children to ‘hit back’, when children are taught this at a very young age, they use ‘hit back’ for all their life’s frustrations- most terrorists are hitting back at society.
3. Do not gift guns to your child, a child idolizes his parents and when he receives a gun as a gift from them, he is somewhere getting a message that guns are fun and this is the first step towards violence acceptance.
4. Many parents ask – ‘our kids say that police also use guns’, so we gift our children guns so that they children’s guns so that they idolize the police and the army. This is incorrect, guns are unsafe and should NOT be given to children, either at Diwali or Holi or otherwise. And parents must become strong and tell them that the police and the army first had to undergo a long process of training then they got their gun license and are using it, just like you cannot drive a car and we can, because we are old enough to and have a license.
5. Children learn by imitation- so learn anger management so that your children look at you and learn how to deal with dress and all such angry emotions.
Let’s remember it is our children and our youngsters who are our future, lets take care of them and let’s salute all the armed forces and policemen for the remarkable duty that they do to keep us safe. So the next time you are in your car and a policeman stops you to remind you about wearing a seatbelt or points out that you were talking on the phone or went through a red light, be polite to them and respect them, remember your child is watching you.
Let’s make this world a safer place for our children.
Swati Popat Vats- Director- Podar Jumbo Kids PreschoolsPresident – Early Childhood Association- www.eca-india.org