How to Talk to Your Kids About Terrorism

March 28, 2016

Most mornings when I wake up, I brew a cup of coffee, toast a slice of bread, and swipe open the smartphone to catch up on the daily news. I am flooded by news sites littered with violence. A school massacre in Connecticut; an employee on a rampage in South Dakota, another police officer gunned down at a traffic stop in Florida; the constant bombardment of evil acts committed by deranged people. Unfortunately, this is our reality.

I often think to myself, “How has our world come to this degree of sin and immorality?” While searching for an answer, I have come across numerous opinions on the progression of violence. Some blame Marilyn Manson rock music for the Columbine massacre, while others contribute slack gun control measures to the Newtown killings. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is retired from the U.S. Army and an author who specializes in the study of the psychology of killing. He correlates the progression of addictive and seductive violent imagery associated with movies and video games to the influx of violence among youth. Whatever the causes may be, many people are aware that the escalating terror is affecting more people every day. However, precautions taken to address it are not growing at the same alarming rate. The main cause for this can be summed up into one word: denial.

People living in denial are not denying that violent acts are taking place around the globe, but they are living in the mindset of “it won’t happen to me.” We all remember the mad rush to the playground when we heard the fire alarm, or the cramped quarters of the bathroom during the tornado tone. We prepared for those dangers, and now preparing for a violent intruder is being added to the list.

The Sioux Center Police Department, along with surrounding law enforcement agencies, is taking strides to reduce the denial mindset and ensure that the community is preparing for violence just as thoroughly as fires and tornadoes. Officers trained by the ALICE Training Institute are training the community on the options of Lockdown, Counter, and Evacuate. A common question asked by attendees of ALICE courses is, “How do we address the topic of violent intruders to our children?” My answer to the question is simple, “talk to them about it.”

I give a simple answer, but I understand it is no easy task. Some research on the question brought me to Mental Health America, which provided some good key points to remember:1

1. Encourage your children to talk. Ask your children what they know already. It may surprise you what they see on TV, read on the internet, or hear from classmates at school. Children are curious, alert, and observant and most likely will encounter some sort of discussion about violence. Allow your children to express their feelings through talking, drawing, or playing.

2. Validate your children’s feelings. Do not minimize your children’s concerns, but reassure them that they are safe. Remind your children that there are people in the community to protect them.

3. Be honest about your own feelings. It is important for your children to know that they are not dealing with these feelings alone. Inform your children that adults, too, have trouble understanding and dealing with the violence they are exposed to. Again, reiterate that adults are always working hard to keep children safe and secure.

4. Discuss your children’s safety protocols. Explain why visitors have to sign in at the front office at school and why many of the doors must remain locked throughout the day. Help your children understand that these safety features are in place to protect them and that following the school rules and policies are important.

5. Create safety plans. Identify people in your children’s life such as teachers, coaches, and police officers that are there for your children’s concerns. Bullying, threats, and suicidal comments are all good reasons for your children to talk to an adult they trust. Allow your child to talk about his or her feelings on the issue.

6. Recognize abnormal behavior. This may be an indication that your child is concerned about his or her safety. Not wanting to attend school, sleeping issues, becoming argumentative or withdrawn, or declining school performance are indicators to watch for.

7. Empower your children. Explain actions they can take to thwart a violent intruder. Remind your children that running away from a dangerous situation is always a good answer. If running away isn’t possible, tell your children to find a good hiding place. Fighting back is not a real expectation for younger children, but telling them to move around and throw objects at a dangerous person is better than becoming a stationary target. Allow your children to keep all options in mind in the event that a dangerous person threatens them.

8. Keep the dialogue going. In other familiar words mentioned earlier, “talk to them about it.” The National Association of School Psychologists offer some tips on how to converse with different age groups:2

Early elementary school children need brief and simple information followed up by reassurances that they are safe and secure. Some examples to remind your children of their safety may include locked doors at school, adults monitoring daily activities, and practicing emergency drills. Remember to simplify words and ideas.

Upper elementary and early middle school children are more curious about the safety and precautions being taken by their school. This age group needs assistance with separating reality from fantasy. Discussion topics on efforts made by the school and community to ensure safety are important.

Upper middle school and high school students are formulating their own opinions on the causes of violence they see or hear about and are making suggestions on how to prevent or react to such tragedies. Emphasize to this age group the role they play in maintaining safety by recognizing threats and addressing them.

9. Seek help if necessary. Assistance from school counselors, mental health professionals, and law enforcement is available to address an array of concerns.

Talking about evil lurking around the world can be a bit gloomy, yet it is an important topic to address. We like to think our community is not prone to the dangers that others experience. It is easy to slip into that denial mindset, especially when it appears that we live in a haven compared to the rest of the world. Preparation is key to not falling victim to complacency. Not only do we need to converse among adults about violence, we need to touch base with our children, too.

About the Author
  • Josh Koedam has been a police officer with the Sioux Center Police Department since 2009. Josh is a certified School Resource Officer and an ALICE Training Institute Instructor. Josh studied communication and criminal justice before graduating from Dordt in 2011.

  1. Talking to Kids About Fear and Violence.” Mental Health America. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. 

  2. 2015, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814; (301) 657-0270, Fax (301) 657-0275 

What are your thoughts about this topic?
We welcome your ideas and questions about the topics considered here. If you would like to receive others' comments and respond by email, please check the box below the comment form when you submit your own comments.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

There are currently no comments. Why don't you kick things off?