How to talk to your kids about the Christchurch terror attacks

by Karyn Henger / 16 March, 2019
This was first published on Now To Love.
flowers at christchurch mosque shooting

The floral tributes grow on Deans Avenue near the Al Noor Mosque as locals pay tribute to those who were killed on March 16, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo/Fiona Goodall/Getty.

If we, as adults, are struggling to make sense of it, how then, are our children?

As "one of New Zealand's darkest days" drew to a close last night the death toll stood at 49, with a further 42 innocent people in hospital with injuries. Two of them, including a 4-year-old girl, are critical.

Sickening, racist and Islamophobia are some of the words that have been used to describe the actions of the gunman who mowed down men, women and children at two Christchurch mosques - the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Deans Avenue and the Linwood Masjid on Linwood Avenue - while they were in prayer yesterday afternoon, March 15, 2019.

With one man charged with murder and a further three people taken into custody, the killings have officially been recognised as terrorist attacks.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was visibly shaken as she condemned the "unprecedented violence" in a televised press conference.

New Zealand is believed to have been targeted because we are a nation considered to be safe: if this can happen in New Zealand you are not safe anywhere, the gunman is believed to have intended the attacks to tell the world.

Ardern issued a clear response: "You may have chosen us. But we utterly reject and condemn you."

"This is not the New Zealand we know and love," said former prime minister Helen Clark on Twitter.

We are a nation in shock, horrified and still in disbelief about the turn of events that unfolded yesterday. If we, as adults, are struggling to make sense of it, how then, are our children?

How much of the round the clock news have they heard or watched, and understood?

I struggled to know what to say to my 10 year old son yesterday. If you've struggled too, this advice from clinical psychologist Dr Sarb Johal may help.

"I've been asked by a few people about how to talk about the terrible multiple attacks in Christchurch," he says, "especially with children and young people and you have a parental or other caregiving role with them. Should you even be talking about it at all?

"There's only so much information that's going to make it any more understandable. Children take their cue from parents or caregivers. They'll be looking to parents for a signal as to how to react to a situation. If you're feeling shaky - and I know I am - it's important to ensure that you get the support you can at a time when it makes sense for you to get it.

"In the immediate short term, it's important parents help children identify their emotions. By helping to name what they are experiencing, it helps them to verbalise and organise what they are experiencing - which is the first step of being able to process what has happened.

"When kids are feeling fearful or anxious it's okay to distract them for a while, but it's also equally valid to acknowledge that, help them to name that and help them to deal with that. Get to know what your child's need for information is. Ask them what they would like to know, and give them access to that information too. Tell them enough to be safe, and no more than that. Avoid unnecessary graphic detail.

"And in terms of exposure to imagery and audio descriptions about what happened in the event, understand that repeated exposure can increase the risk of anxiety and or other issues. So, minimising this is a good idea, without burying your head in the sand."

This article was first published on Now To Love.

Latest

50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgotten Nasa legend
108468 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z History

50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgo…

by Peter Griffin

Today marks 50 years since humans landed on the Moon, a feat achieved thanks to Kiwi scientist William Pickering and his team.

Read more
The best thing to come from the Black Caps' defeat
108621 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Sport

The best thing to come from the Black Caps' defeat…

by Paul Thomas

For New Zealanders, the Cricket World Cup final was a brutal reminder of sport’s great paradox. But there's hope on the horizon.

Read more
What New Zealand can do about the militarisation of space
108498 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Tech

What New Zealand can do about the militarisation o…

by Duncan Steel

We may decry the notion, but the hostile use of space is creeping into the plans of various countries.

Read more
Five technologies from the space race that we take for granted
108506 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Tech

Five technologies from the space race that we take…

by Peter Griffin

If US$154 billion to land 12 men on the Moon seems excessive, consider the things we use every day that had their roots in a Nasa lab.

Read more
Top investigator urges police to speak up about wrongful convictions
108539 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Crime

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wr…

by Mike White

Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations in talks with Scott Morrison
108570 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations…

by Craig McCulloch

PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.

Read more
How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their identity
108572 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their…

by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.

Read more
The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh removal
108377 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh remova…

by Ruth Nichol

Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.

Read more