Explaining Terrorism To Children

After a very stressful day at work, I walked in and I saw my brother age 8 years old eyeing the television with interest. At first I paid no attention to him until he asked me in a very low voice “Why are Muslims killing everyone?” “Why have they not brought back the girls? Most difficult of all – why are children in hijab bombing themselves and everyone? He was almost crying.So I sat down with him and I realised that he was watching a live news stream on 2,000 people that were killed in Baga. He vented to me all the nasty things he heard in school about Boko Haram, Charlie Hebdo and what he also saw in the news (apparently he dashed to watch the television first before asking me).

As he narrated all he heard and has learnt to me I realised that as we receive news of what is happening and discuss amongst ourselves the injustice we are witnessing, there is one more group who is interested in these events – children. They see glimpses of the news, they overhear our discussions and they pick up parts of what is happening. Here

I am a journalist reporting and clarifying issues for people but neglecting to put things in perspective for my very little brother. I thought he was still young to be able to grasp and understand world events. I suddenly realize that as children become older they will naturally be increasingly exposed to more news events. They may hear about breaking news from friends at school, or overhear something on the playground. Children this age are already more curious about the world at large, and will likely be very interested in a big news event, particularly when the adults around them, including teachers, parents and siblings, seem interested in it.

I remember when my 5 year old cousin saw a picture where an adult was screening kids for bomb before they entered school she asked me why small children were been searched like that. I had no explanation for her. I could see that these really bothered her because these children were putting on hijab and they were the same age as her. However, to help the conversation with kids, I wrote this article to offer flexible suggestions for answering kids' questions about the news.

There is no script to follow but these strategies can help you tune in to what your child or sibling is thinking and feeling and talk it through together.


Turn Off The TV
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to turn off the TV and radio and not read too much internet news coverage after a tragedy. It’s to be expected that headlines will be blaring with updates on a big news event like a terrorist shooting or attacking a school, and many of the images and conversations can potentially be graphic or emotionally wrenching. Try to find another family activity -- such as memorising the Qur'an or reading a book together to take your child’s mind, and your own, off of the news event.

Find Out What S/He Knows
That was I did first, I allowed my brother to vent to me about what he heard, know, and feel about the news or tragic event. When a news topic comes up, ask an open-ended question to find out what he/she knows like "What have you heard about it?" This encourages your child to let you know what she is thinking. Before you talk about the news event, gauge what they know and what, if any, misconceptions they might have about things they've heard. "Find out everything your child is thinking and feeling.

Follow Up With Questions
Ask a follow up question, Depending on your child's comments, ask another question to get him thinking, such as "Why do you think that happened?" or "What do you think people should do to help?" Don't assume you know how they feel. Instead, get at their understanding of what happened. "They might be afraid and/or just curious. You have to ascertain that by asking things like 'What did you hear? What do you think?'" They could be using twisted logic, like when they see a terrorist saying Allahu Akbar and they think he is a real Muslim. Correct any misconceptions, and then offer assurance.

Be Truthful
Children need to understand what is happening around them to feel secure. Provide them with facts about what happened and acknowledge it was a terrible and frightening event. Don’t sugarcoat the story or lie. If your child asks whether children were killed, answer. Also it should be noted that Yes, the world can be a cruel place, but little kids, well, can't handle the truth. At first I wanted to tell him that some people in Government were the ones sponsoring Boko Haram but I realised that he cannot handle that kind of information. So I gave him a simple and truthful explanation that these terrorists are not Muslims and that there are only two groups of people in the world - good and bad people and a Muslim should always be good, very good.

Listen And Acknowledge
When a child is exposed to disturbing news, she may worry about her safety. To help her calm down, offer specific examples that relate to her environment like, "That terrorist attack happened far away but we've never had a terrorist attack where we live." If a child talks about a news event (like the kidnap of the 236 girls) and is worried, recognize her feeling and comfort her. Actions speak louder than words — so show your child how you lock the door and You might say "I can see you're worried, but you are safe here. Remember how we always lock our doors." This acknowledges your child's feelings, helps her feel secure, and encourages her to tell you more.

Encourage Any Questions
Ensure your child feels as though they can approach you to ask questions as much as they need. Sometimes a child will process a tragic event much later and come back to you again for more discussion. Remind them that questions are welcome.

Talk About What You Can Do
In a discussion with my 8 year old brother, I encouraged him to make sure he behaves like a good Muslim so his school mates and friends would realise that Muslims are not terrorist or bad people.  Fear and anxiety can be relieved somewhat when children can focus on an action that they can undertake to make a difference. I used to tell him stories of the prophet and the sahabahs and how they were nice to Muslims and non-Muslims.

Use it as A Dawah Moment
Talking about bad things can lead to discussions about how to help others, and gives parents an opportunity to model compassion. Talk about teaching others about Islam, Giving things to people who are poor or even make the message even more personal. By teaching them a lesson in gratitude, 'You should always say Alhamdulillah to Allah for giving you food this morning because some kids do not have what to eat”

I also believe that these would allow children to grow up with a feeling that they can do something to make a difference. I believe that Muslim’s by nature should be activists: Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (ra) said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”  Muslim.
children should also be encouraged to speak up for others, who try to help the weak and vulnerable and who adhere to the Qur'anic injunction that states: 

And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong, and these it is that shall be successful.” (Qur'an 3:104).

Be Watchful for Behavioural Changes
Kids who are behaving differently, such as not sleeping at night, feel frightened, don’t want mum to go to work, they want to start sleeping in with you may need some more reassurance and encouragement.  Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety in your child. No matter what your child’s personality or age, however, some news stories are just too much for even grown ups to handle. Watch for signs of stress and anxiety in your child, such as hyperactivity, irritability, regression, stomachaches/headaches, and separation anxiety, and take measures to minimize his stress and relieve his anxiety. If it continues it might be time to seek professional help.


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