The cartoon of the Eiffel Tower is crying and holding hands with children in a book put out by a children's book publisher in the wake of the murderous terrorist attacks on Paris last week, according to NPR, which also said the minister of education in France has encouraged teachers to be calm and sure in front of students.
It's a tricky thing, talking to children about terror without creating it. Recent events have again raised the issue, which parents have long faced as violence impacts different communities. But it's a conversation going on around the world right now.
Advice provided to Business Insider Australia by child psychologist Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic includes limiting media exposure, making sure kids feel safe, not going into too much detail and sticking to routines. She also notes that when parents whisper to each other about things, kids are more likely to eavesdrop.
The conversation has been evolving for some time.
As a new article in The Guardian notes, "In 2013, teachers helped students understand the Boston marathon bombing, for example. And in the past year, America’s racial divisions, racial violence and police brutality have all come to the fore. It’s critical that schools make time for these kinds of conversations — not only on the days after something terrible happens and not only for 15 isolated minutes at the beginning of class, said Karen Murphy, international director for Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that trains history teachers.
The article said that "it’s also important that teachers get the training and practice that they need to create a safe environment for discussions about difficult subjects, she said.
“We know that kids are coming to the classrooms with things happening, either immediately in their communities or internationally, that are troubling and destabilizing. Schools are and should be places to grapple with these things,” Murphy said. “Kids really need this space to wrestle with the issues that are right there on their doorstep, almost no matter where they live — and their teachers do too.”
“When such an event happens in a place that had been viewed as safe, kids no longer see it as safe,” Cathy Paine, then-chairwoman of the National Emergency Assistance Team within the National Association of School Psychologists and herself a veteran of a traumatic shooting, told the Deseret News back in 2012 following the mass shooting of moviegoers at a theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Such events naturally scare children — and adults, too, she said, though they have to manage their fear to help their children. Attacks can make children fearful of the type of place where they occur. "It is really hard to understand senseless violence, where there doesn’t seem to be any reason that rational people would understand," Paine said. "And you have to say that to children.”
NPR talked to a sixth-grade art teacher in the south of France, Djemaa Benamor, who said the killing in Paris impacted the entire country. She has responded with an art project to let the children express their emotions.
"Many students are confusing this with religion and it's important to establish that this has nothing to do with that," Benamor said. "These are fanatics. There is no religious text that says go kill innocent people at a café."
The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children trains professionals to deal with trauma in children. Clinical director Caelan Kuban Soma told The Detroit News that the most important thing is assuring children that they are safe.
“And it’s important for them to know that the likelihood of something like that happening anywhere is very, very rare,” Soma said, “although things like that do happen. The hardest question to respond to is, ‘Why would somebody do that?’ There’s really not one correct answer; it depends on what the parents want to say and what their religious and cultural beliefs are. One thing to tell them is, ‘Something was very, very, very — use lots of verys — wrong with their mind, and they did something that was very, very unkind.’”
In a column for the Indianapolis Star, the Rev. Nathan Day Wilson, a senior minister of the First Christian Church in Shelbyville, said it's important to ask children what they know and listen carefully to their response. He also emphasizes using age-appropriate language and keeping the conversation framed in that context, as well.
He cautions against stereotyping "by race, religion or nationality at any time — but especially not in times of heightened concern. It is better to tell children that you don't understand why some people do these things than to stereotype large groups of people."
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