How Do We Talk to Our Kids About Terrorism?

Monday night, Salman Abedi detonated a bomb near the foyer of the Manchester Arena just as concert goers began filing out. 22 dead. 59 injured, many with life threatening injuries. The youngest was just eight years old. It was the worst act of terrorism in Britain since the 2005 London bombings which killed 56.

talk to kids about terrorism

And media broadcasts the nightmare right into our homes, our safe spaces. How do you help children process these images and sounds?

Sometimes, it seems I am in a very different world than the one I grew up in. Terrorism existed, but it was far away. Planes were hijacked on their way to destinations I would never go to. And I only vaguely remember the 1986 discotheque bombing in Berlin. It was a problem for far away lands.

Then again, I grew up during the Cold War. Random acts of violence at a concert, a school, an airport were not on my radar. Instantaneous and total annihilation, however, was. Sitting in the school’s bomb shelter discussing whether or not we would actually want to know the bombs were on their way leaves an impression on a fifth grader.

I remember the anxiety, but I was a kid. The enemy that has declared war on us does not have the military capability to annihilate civilization as we know it. Yet somehow, the randomness of the attacks seems more frightening. Or maybe it is because I am now an adult, charged with raising children in this world and watching them go out into it. I watch them go out and I know I cannot protect them.

My children have questions, but I am torn how to respond.

I want to protect them.

Not just from terrorists, but from terror. They’re too young. They don’t need to worry about whether some madman is going to show up at a mall, or a camp or a concert with a bomb in a backpack. They deserve to be kids, with their heads full of fantasies and their hearts full of dreams.

But I can’t completely stop the images they see and the stories they hear and the news they receive. They have questions. And I cannot insulate them completely from this uncertain world we live in.

I want to inform them.

We homeschool. Education is a large part of our life. Life is a large part of our education. A terrorist attack specifically targeting teens at a concert is a little too big to sweep under the rug and ignore. So we do talk about it. I try not to show them news reports. They don’t need to see bodies and hear screaming to know that several people died and more were critically injured.

We talk about the current crisis. We talk about ISIS. We talk about how Muslims in these countries are fleeing for their lives before this enemy. We talk about the history. We talk about the religion. We talk about radicalization and what kinds of things drive a person to seek this kind of war.

And I try very hard to keep them human. Because in every war, the enemy is dehumanized. Their war started with dehumanizing us. We may need to take up arms to defend ourselves, but we do not need to make them into something less than human.

I want to help them grow in their faith.

I once read a story about a Christian misisionary in Israel. He regularly went to the Syrian border to pray. Syria was closed to the gospel and he would stare out over the landscape thinking of the millions of people without hope. He prayed for an opportunity. Then Syria attacked Isreal and he fell to his knees, praising God. He couldn’t bring the gospel to Syria, but suddenly God was bringing the Syrian army to him.

The story affected me. I would like to have that kind of faith . . . that values those souls more than my own life.

I think about that every time refugees are discussed on facebook. It challenges me to swallow some of my fear and anxiety and it reminds me to pray.

Growing in Christ means growing in love. After all, Christ instructed us,

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~Matthew 5:44

So we pray for Manchester. We pray for Albedi’s family. We pray for those who may have helped organize this attack. We pray for the Muslims in our community. We pray that we might be a light, because sometimes all it takes to drive back the darkness is a small flicker.

And we can’t hold too tightly to this life because it is not our forever home.

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3 thoughts on “How Do We Talk to Our Kids About Terrorism?

    1. Yes, that’s one of the advantages of homeschooling. You can control just how much they hear and how it is presented. I remember all the faulty information my first graders had after 9/11. Some of them believed it was just and accident,not an attack, and it put me in a difficult situation because I believe strongly in facts (though filtered by age), but I also knew that had probably come from parents who didn’t want their kids to be afraid.

  1. I really liked your line that said “And we can’t hold too tightly to this life because it is not our forever home.” And that is also true of our children isn’t it?

    I’ve homeschooled for a few years now and find that the longer I do it the more my kids inquire about topics I’d rather leave outside our doors. However, I realize if we don’t talk about it they can easily Google the information and who knows what they will find?

    The world is definitely a different place than I grew up in (my childhood was like yours) but it’s the world my kids are going to need to live in – with all of it’s flaws and issues.

    Let’s hope that this next generation is able to improve upon what they are going to receive from generations before. 🙂

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