Tuesday 6 June 2017

A conversation with a 7 year old about terrorism

I don't intend for this post to be guidance for parents on how to talk to their children about terrorism because I am not the right person to advise on that one but I am sharing a conversation I had yesterday with my son Oliver who is almost 8 years old and what he thought about it - I didn't plan the conversation like I probably should have done but when Oliver came out of school yesterday he looked worried, he was very grumpy - more so than usual and snappy, oh so snappy! I questioned what was wrong and he just snapped at me, nothing... ok.. So like most other mums have learnt by the time their child is 7 years old you just start chatting about something else and if it's something that is really bugging them - then they'll tell you it fairly quickly.... and he did!

Age 7 is tricky because they're at school - you don't know what other children already know and will share with them, you also take them to shops right? Where there's newspapers... well your 7 year old can now read these headlines and without explanation can be even scarier than they are and lets face it they're very scary as it is.

At school - I'm not sure who said it but apparently someone told him there were men dropping bombs from planes in London and he was worried that would happen here and fall onto him. The utter confusion and panic in his face meant I did need to explain something to him now because someone else had said something that wasn't true. Could I make him feel any better with the 'truth' though? Currently he thought that in London throughout the day loads of people were dying due to random bombs every now and then falling onto them... what?! How had this other child got the wrong information from somewhere?

As a mum I'm sure there's going to be some very hard conversations I need to have with both of my children but this one for some reason just felt so difficult because as an adult it's never possible to understand terrorists so how could I phrase what I was trying to say to a child who definitely isn't going to understand it either, children look to you as their parent for an explanation as to WHY this has happened, that's why they always question why because you know the answer and you're their hero, you're always right but I don't know. I have no idea, I can't even begin to understand what goes through these peoples brains.

So this is how our conversation went -
I asked him if he remembered the bridge incident a few months ago that he saw a bit of on TV before I quickly turned it off, of course he did remember it, he was very scared by it and actually he decided - for himself! that he didn't want to go on a school trip - to the Islamic cultural centre in London, not because he had connected the dots to Islam but because he had connected the dots to London and now in his brain, London was no longer safe... what!!! It proved an impossible task to get him to go on the school trip and at the same time I didn't want to force him to go, if he really didn't want to. I confessed to him that this was a terror attack, he nodded his head and said I know, bad people.

I told him that a few weeks ago whilst loads of people - young and old were at a concert for Ariana Grande, they had a lovely time listening to her songs such as the ones we often play on youtube and dance around the room together on our pretend discos! I told him that once she had finished and people started to leave, some of them, 22 were killed by a man who wasn't a nice person. I went into detail!

I told him that the man had made a bomb, he was a very bad man and he decided to make that bomb to hurt people, to kill people and to upset everyone in our country. But WHY?! ... I don't know Oliver, I genuinely don't understand - no one does. These people are brain washed - But Oliver questioned what's brain washed? .... hmmm ... you know when you pause for a second to collect your answer from loads of words flying around your head? This wasn't a conversation I wanted to be having with my 7 year old. Was I even right to start this conversation? so I settled with they are convinced to believe something is correct. Oh. Ok so why didn't his friends stop him doing this? Tell him it was not good? Stop them? Well - that's a good question Oliver - maybe they didn't know? (I didn't know how to say perhaps they were just as bad as this bad person?! I didn't have the heart to say that to him)

I told him that on the weekend, it happened again. Three men had decided to hurt people, cause pain and loss of life again. Why? I don't know why Oliver.

I continued to tell him, they drove a van into people that were on the pavement and they really hurt them, killed some of them. His face - the utter shock, confusion and pain for these people. My 7 year old can see just how wrong, how heartbreaking this is. Why can't they?

I didn't stop there - perhaps I should have but I continued, I thought to myself - you've started now so you need to explain some more incase other kids tell him more lies, I want him to know what happened. I told him that they had knives and stabbed people. He cried. I expected the tears - it's a heart breaking thing to have to tell your child they live in a world with very nasty people.

Then he got scared, what if they come here? I don't want them to hurt anyone else at all. I know you don't Oliver and I'm praying that this world doesn't get any worse as you continue to grow up in it.

I promised him that they won't come to our towns - I don't know that but how could I tell him that? He doesn't need to know that. This little lie I needed to tell to make him feel safe.

He asked me why did they kill themselves? he thinks that living in our world is nice.

Were any children killed mummy? Oh, this is heart tugging. Yes, yes they were. which was quickly followed by "do they want to kill more children?" Sheer look of terror, I cuddled him, held him and told him I will spend my life making sure he is safe. WHAT THE ACTUAL F**K. I can't believe I started this conversation. I change my mind. *but rewind button isn't working!!!*

Then my 7 year old asked, Is there going to be another world war? - having learnt about world wars at school, Oliver is now worried this will turn into one.

His feelings are what I expected; shocked, anger, fright and followed by sadness.

I'm not sure at this point why I started telling him the truth but afterwards I'm glad I did. I couldn't have him thinking that planes were randomly fly above us and drop bombs on us. I couldn't let him think that may happen but I didn't want to just dismiss it, it didn't feel right to lie to him. I had to tell him something so I decided that the truth was the best, you may agree with what I did or you may disagree and think he's too young.

I find it so important to stress that these terrorists are not what Muslims are like, I've been friends throughout my life with Muslims and none of those friends share the thoughts of these awful people. It scares me that people could turn on Muslims because of their religion being used in this way. I want my children to be friends with everyone; Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jewish! I want to teach them to love and not to hate.

The impact of what has happened recently will affect our children whether we tell them the truth or not, they may ask why suddenly there's more police at functions or their school friends may tell them something that isn't true but still scary, I'd rather my children grow up knowing the truth and feeling in some way comfort that there is a lot of good people too - if that makes any sense at all. I want my child to know that as a nation we will look after each other, we have an amazing team of police, paramedics, doctors, nurses as well as just every day ordinary people who will help you.

I believe we need to empower our children with the knowledge and as much understanding as we can give them to cope with this, I want my children to know that if they're ever worried about anything then they can talk to me. I also want them to be alert when we're out and about.

I told him when something bad happens, look for the good people. Look for the police officers keeping people safe, look for the paramedics and doctors saving peoples lives... look for members of the public offering help in any little way that they can.

And as for the planes - I told him that was nonsense, I told him we have people watching our airspace and keeping it safe. He found comfort in that too. It worries me what the other child has heard - are they worried too and has anyone thought to have a chat with them about it too? I've told Oliver not to go to school and tell children what I have told him. I've told him to tell them that we have an amazing police force, NHS who save lives and RAF, Army, Navy all of whom will look after us. I've told him we are lucky to live in our country.

Do you know what made Oliver feel better? We sat down together yesterday to put catch up on the tv and we watch the One Love Manchester concert which was on Sunday, as it zoomed out and showed how many people were there... I told Oliver that they were all good people, all happy people who love each other and want to help look after everyone to be safe. He found comfort in that, he liked that they were there together having fun, that made him feel safer knowing that there were thousands of nice people so thank you Ariana Grande and all of the other artists who made that concert happen.

Have you spoken to your children about it too?


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