Sunday 23 July 2017

It's tempting to shield our kids from atrocities like the Manchester Bombing

Manchester after the attack. Photo: Karen Moore
Manchester after the attack. Photo: Karen Moore

Patricia Casey

The nail bomb attack on the Manchester Arena will be remembered most of all for its destruction of children. The artist Ariana Grande is very popular with young girls and teenagers and this atrocity will be seen first and foremost, as an assault on young people many of whom were, likely, at their first gig. Of the 22 who were killed, some were children and one was only 8-years-old.

Because of the age profile, parents are likely to have to answer a myriad of questions from children and teenagers about this particular attack and almost certainly more that they have had to address before. Parents are unprepared for 10-year-olds asking them what a terrorist is or why a person would do such a thing when all you are doing is enjoying the singing?

It is heartrending to learn of parents frantically trying to text or call their children and not receive any reply. You can put yourself in that mother's shoes and feel the nauseous dread of knowing that your 13-year-old may not be coming home alive. Nobody can be prepared for having to break bad news to your other children or explain the concept of evil when, hopefully she is found safe and not physically or psychologically harmed.

It is tempting to try and protect our children from distressing news and images. Apart from very young children, this is difficult to achieve because from the age of about seven upwards they are so computer savvy and will have read about and seen images of the attack. And usually the questions will follow.

The amount of information and the language used will depend on the age, maturity and sensitivity of the child. Answers must be truthful and in order to help maintain the young person's belief in the 'just world' and they can be advised that while these attacks do occur they are not common and that the police, parents and the wider community is doing everything to protect them.

The 'why' question is inevitable and explaining that there are some 'bad' people who commit these acts is the most honest way to open this part of the discussion. Children will want to know who the person is, who engaged in this act, and while a detailed exposition on ISIS it not called for it might be helpful to explain that there are a small number of people who do not like how we live in our country and who want to change this. Again, the reassurance that this is only a small group relative to the whole population, is worthwhile emphasising. Above all they must know that it is now over.

If the child does not ask any questions it may be because of fear and so a gentle probe if there is anything they would like to ask about the incident may provide an opening for the reluctant child. They should not be over-cossetted either in their day to day activities so school, after class activities and sleepovers should continue as usual.

It is tempting to think that, like us adults, our children will foresee the worst outcome, but that is unlikely as children usually live in the here and now and do not project into the future. They should not have this innocence taken from them. Most children are resilient and with love, a belief that they are being protected and that good will out in the end, they will not have any emotional problems as a consequence of knowing about a terrorist attack. A few may have sleep problems or be distressed and experience unpleasant dreams but normalising this as understandable is helpful. Most will come through such knowledge unscathed.

Only if the distress and the problems with sleep and dreams continues for a few weeks should professional help be sought from a GP in the first instance. Otherwise parental love is all that is necessary for most. What is not yet clear is if in this instance, the impact will be greater because their peers have been targeted.

To assist parents caught in the dilemma of wanting to protect their children on the one hand while dealing with the reality of social media and computer literate youngsters also, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London has published advice for parents. Speaking on behalf of the Child and Adolescent Faculty of Psychiatry Dr. Bernadka Dubicka said "We would not advise hiding your child from what may be on the news or social media. They will inevitably learn about it from their friends, so it's best to be honest with them about what has happened.

"While taking into consideration the age and sensitivity of your child, let them lead the conversation.

"Respond to their questions or concerns, and help them to understand that although what has happened is awful, these events are extremely rare. Do not try to force conversations with your child about this, but be there for them should they wish to talk"

Further information can be found on the Royal College of Psychiatrists Manchester website, www.rcpsych.ac.uk or download one of their information leaflets which deals with traumatic events in children.

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