Talking to Kids About Terrorism

momandkid-300x200A woman clinging to a window ledge, injured victims covered in blood, bodies lying in the streets — these are a few of the horrifying images emerging in news coverage and on social media following terror attacks.

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics is cautioning parents about the content their children may be exposed to, and issued this statement in response to the recent Paris attacks:

“As pediatricians, we know that violence can have lasting effects on children, even if they are only learning about it through the media. The AAP urges everyone to take care with the images that children see and hear about. The AAP has resources available for clinicians at​ and for families at”

Dr. Sonia Krishna, child and adolescent psychiatrist with Seton Healthcare Family, agrees media coverage of the attacks can be difficult for anyone to process — especially children.

“Kids – and likely adults – don’t understand the complete context of terror,” Krishna said. “Nobody can explain it, so it’s frightening because people don’t feel safe, and that makes it hard to function.”

While a parent’s instinct may be to ignore headlines and not discuss what happened, Krishna says talking to your kids can be healthy, if you do it right.

“Chances are they’re going to hear about it regardless, so rather than holding it all in, use it as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with your kids,” she said. “Provide a general description of what happened and ask for your child’s opinions and feelings. It’s important to provide support and to show empathy.”

Krishna says children typically do best when they are allowed to express their feelings, get plenty of reassurance from adults and return to normal routines as soon as possible.

“Young children are strongly affected by how their parents respond to the event,” she said. “Most kids who hear bout this or see these images will not be affected long term. But if your child seems excessively distressed, it may be time to talk with a professional.”

While there is limited research on the effects of mass media following traumatic events and terrorist attacks, Krishna recommends parents watch for the following warning signs, which could signal a problem:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Sadness
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Not wanting to leave their parents
  • Becoming socially isolated

Seton offers behavioral health care services to adults and children in Central Texas. Visit Seton Behavioral Health Care for more information.