What Should We Tell Our Children about the Paris Attacks?

Bombs around a football stadium. Men shooting people. Eighty people dead in a theater.

“I felt tears in my eyes, mama. Other children were crying. I felt stressed.”

That’s the message my eight year old came home from school with this week after his ‘news lesson’ about the attacks last Friday in Paris.

What Should We Tell Our Children about the Paris Attacks?

I was unprepared. I had had no warning from school that this topic would be covered. We had kept the details away from my children. We had made that choice for a reason. What good could it possibly do to relay the details of terrorist act to an eight year old? How could we possibly explain the why to children who are eight, five and four? Why would we want to?

But suddenly our choice had been overruled. I sat and talked to him about the footage he had seen, what he had heard during the lesson, what he had taken away from it. He talked of bombs, guns, death. He saw vividly the image of a policeman holding a gun in his mind.

Later the school relayed that the children had talked about Paris in their news lesson. The focus had been on the buildings across Europe being lit up, the ‘Peace for Paris’ symbol and the minute’s silence that was held on Monday.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the message that came home. I asked my son about the Peace for Paris symbol,

“Oh yes, we talked about that too. I forgot about that.”

The bombs, the guns, the deaths. That is what stuck with my eldest. That is what whirs around the mind of my highly sensitive child.

It prompted me to talk to people in the HSK network and friends, some in England and some with children here in the Netherlands. Had their school talked to their children about the attacks in Paris?

One retorted that their Dutch primary school had said they had no intention of discussing it at all because they deem the children too young for this sort of topic.

Another relayed that her child in group 3 (aged 6 and 7) had discussed the attacks in Paris in their class.

One mother told me her children had said a prayer in assembly for the victims but that no details had been shared with the children.

Other parents had received a message stating that the attacks would be discussed with their children. Some were not pleased, but at least forewarned.

Some mothers were disturbed by the details shared with their children (and you can include me in this). Some were angered that the decision of what to tell had been taken out of their hands (again I am included in this). Some were shocked to hear that my son knew so much detail without any prior warning given to the parents that the topic would even be talked about.

A few months back I was upset, like many people were, by the images filling my Facebook timeline of refugees washing up on our shorelines. I shared the broad outline of the plight of the refugees with my children, no images, just words. Together we put a rucksack of items together for a child that would find themselves seeking asylum in the Netherlands. I knitted scarves and collated items to send to a Greek Island for those landing with no dry clothes on Greece’s beaches. There was something we could do, however small it may be in the scheme of things. There was something teachable from the misery  – I could show my children that we could help, take action and help maybe just one other child in this world who had it so much tougher than I hope my children ever will.

But this feels like something else altogether. Bombs. Guns. Deaths. I’m not sure what to do with that. How can I stop my children worrying? How can I explain the randomness of the violence and terror? I don’t understand it myself. It scares me. Some days it paralyses me that the world we live in, the world I am raising my children in, is repeatedly capable of causing so much pain and hurt. It scares me that the world we live in fails to learn the lessons of the past.

I want my children to have a childhood. A childhood free of fear for as long as possible. Not just my children. Syrian children. The children in Beirut. French children. All children. Crazy me.

Bombs. Guns. Deaths.

I have learnt a big lesson this week. I can shelter my children only so far from the reality of a world that is hell bent on violence and terror. I can choose not to share the details of the horrors across the world with my children to give them a shot at a childhood free from fear, but there’s a good chance that they will hear it elsewhere. The older they get, the bigger that chance becomes.

Where’s the line between home and school? Where are our parenting boundaries?

I’ve learnt that my parenting choices are sometimes overridden. Now it’s about dealing with the fall out, about being there to answer my son’s questions. Listening when he needs to talk. Talking when he needs reassurance.

I’ll tell him about the flowers. I’ll tell him to look for the helpers. I’ll tell him there is more good than bad in our communities. That’s our focus.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. How far do you think we need to protect our children from negative global news events?



About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
This entry was posted in Parenting as a HSP and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What Should We Tell Our Children about the Paris Attacks?

  1. Pingback: Highly Sensitive People and Travel | Happy Sensitive Kids

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  3. Pingback: How Far Should Parents Protect Highly Sensitive Children From World News? | Happy Sensitive Kids

  4. neasahogan says:

    In general we don’t have tv on but the morning after the attacks my 5 yr old was with her Grandmother who has family in France, she had the news on and my little one ended up seeing a couple of hours of news coverage before Granny realised the problem with this. This has changed my daughter’s world. Her entire framework of understanding has been altered by what she saw and heard that morning. Uncensored, unexplained, unbelievable. I have had months and months of upset and fear. Hours of trying to help her understand. Hours of easing her fear of ISIS (and others). She is a clever, kind child and is so perceptive, it is hard seeing her hurting so much. Having said that, when I get caught up in my upset on her behalf I then tend to think about the sheer terror and fear the children in Syria (and surrounding places) are living in. They are immersed in it. Their world has been shattered, their lives altered, their futures changed utterly. We are so lucky to be privileged enough to be able to even think about how much our children see/hear/know about it. Others children have no choice. It *sometimes* helps me put things into perspective.


  5. A couple of months ago, we were told there was a credible terrorist threat against Americans here in SA. Our children go to an American school. Having lived somewhere where I have already had to be evacuated once due to terrorism, I take every threat seriously. But the school seemed to deal with it well. They had a “duck and cover” practise at school that day (eg hiding in a cupboard) but they don’t go into detail why. They tend to talk more broadly about intruders onto the school compound. But we have also had to talk to them about what to do if we get carjacked, how to get out of the car without being shot, what they should do if someone tries to grab them in a shop….it’s not easy and there is no perfect solution but I do think the school should at least warn the parents if this is something they are going to talk about with kids as young as yours – and give you the chance to do it your own way. Tough times.


  6. Becky Pink says:

    I would be horrified if our school asked about that to my nearly 5 year old. I have shielded her from it as I think it’s too confusing and frightening (she has an overactive imagination like me). I think some of the other schools you talk about seem to have handled it better, even warning you would have been better than what you had. I suppose it’s hard for schools to come up with a policy that is appropriate for all ages. If it’s a primary school where kids go from 4 to 11, there is a huge difference of understanding and experience. I hope he isn’t too upset by it. Becky x #CoolMumClub


  7. My children are still far too young to understand anything like this but when they do get to school I would expect to be told if a topic like this is going to come up. I’m sure your child wasn’t the only one who came home with more negative images in their mind then the positive ones that I’m sure the teachers were trying to focus on. Something else to consider is how much they hear from their classmates. Some parents won’t filter the news at all. Playground chat may have been the reason why the school decided to take a lead in the discussion. It sounds like you did a great job of taking the matter through #coolmumclub


  8. Nicely written. I know living in France and my youngest being 8 years old – I struggled with how much to tell her. I too, knowing they were doing a moment of silence on Monday, knew it would be a topic to be discussed and couldn’t totally isolate her from that. I also knew that there was a small chance that one of her classmates might have had a relative or friend in Paris who could have been killed. Kids talk too. I choose to shelter her from the news until Sunday night, when I took her aside and talked in general. At least she knew why they were doing a moment of silence and had a base from me. Even though they talked about it Monday in school – she really sort of tuned out as she “already” knew. I guess giving her a heads up, helped protect her too. Thanks for sharing – nice post.


  9. Interesting post…Tigs came home from pre-school last week talking about their version of Armistice day…A cute video about a bunny in a poppy field. She also picked up on the people being killed point. She is three. Horrified, I asked her teacher if they had covered that with the kids – they hadn’t. I guess children are more switched on than we think. xxx #coolmumclub


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