How to talk to your child about terrorism

Parent Help joins with all New Zealanders who have condemned the horrific violence on Friday 15th March at the two mosques in Christchurch.

To our Muslim communities, especially the families who have lost loved ones, and to those who endured the unspeakable horror of those fateful minutes, we echo the Prime Minister who said, “You should have been safe”.


When horrifying events such as this take place we, as parents, are naturally looking for ways to explain to our children something that’s impossible to explain – partly because we don’t understand it ourselves.

Our explanations are now made more difficult by the introduction of the word “terrorism” which our children will hear repeatedly and will ask what it means.

Susan Stiffellman, Psychotherapist, comments that “talking about terrorism” is different from, say, talking about natural disasters because “we’re unprepared for random, atrocious acts of violence”.


At times like this children need to know they can depend on their parents to feel safe and secure.


Find out what they know:
Children will hear many different things from a variety of sources which can be very confusing. Ask them specifically what they have heard so that you can correct any misinformation. Answer their questions honestly and in language they can understand.

Encourage them to express how they are feeling:
Let them know it is O.K. to feel sad, anxious, and scared. Tell them you feel that way too. Don’t be tempted to say “Don’t worry” or “It won’t happen here”.

Keep it simple:
Limit TV and access to social media. Seeing or hearing about this heartbreaking event once is enough. Reserve your discussions until you are out of earshot. Encourage them to spend time playing with friends and doing things they enjoy. As much as possible return to your normal routine – helpful for both parent and child.

Demonstrate kindness and empathy
and give messages that “you matter” and that the world is a good place.

Reassure them:
As many times as is necessary! Your child might start to worry about all kinds of things, unrelated to the events in Christchurch. Keeping to routines, being available and lots of reassuring hugs helps children feel secure and safe and make sense of such a devastating event. Tell them what you are doing to keep them safe and what the Police and others are doing to keep them safe.

To Parents: It’s normal to go through a period of feeling insecure. Reduce pressures in the environment and have inclusive family times with relaxing, fun rituals.


If we can help you to help your child or children please don’t hesitate to call our Helpline 0800 568 856.

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(photo credit: @studio.bon)

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