As the names of the deceased emerge from the aftermath of Monday's nights terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a disturbing pattern has become clear: More than half of those killed in the Manchester attack were children under the age of 16. The pop singer's massive social media following means the news of Monday night's carnage has sent shockwaves through Ariana Grande fans around the world, of all ages. Here's how to talk to your kids about the Manchester attack, because they may undoubtedly have questions and complex emotions they need to process.
There are some tried and true strategies from child psychologists for talking to children through times of crisis and turmoil: Listen to your child's fears and worries. Offer soothing and comforting words. Following the Sandy Hook shooting where 20 elementary school children were murdered, psychologists noted that children may be especially scared of going back to school.
But in the case of the Manchester attack, children were the deliberate target of the suicide bomber, whose attack has left at least 22 dead and another 59 injured, some critically. In what should have been a carefree concert night, it instead turned into a deadly and senseless massacre — which may leave parents with more questions of their own than answers for their children's concerns.
Anne Longfield, the Children's Commission of England, issued a statement on the Manchester attack to parents and caregivers Tuesday. In it, she encouraged that adults "must find a way to tell our children what has happened," and that they must "find the courage to help them understand" while giving them the "reassurance and love they need to deal with such terrible news."
At this point, whether your child is a fan of Ariana Grande or not, they have probably already heard the news about what happened in Manchester. If your child is young, the news may not have even registered, while older kids may have already seen graphic and frightening videos of the Manchester attack posted to social media. As a parent or caregiver, it's important to find out how much they know without going into graphic detail: Let your child guide the conversation by asking them things like, "Have you heard about the Manchester attack? What have you heard?"
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers a number of resources specifically about terrorism for parents and caregivers, breaking down tips by age groups. For very young children, the NCTSN wrote that it's important that parents validate their children's feelings of fear and sadness, as well as reassure them of their safety — even if they may not actually be safe. For school age children, the NCTSN noted that thoughts about what happened may be "stuck" in their child's mind, so it's important to return to a sense of normalcy and routine as quickly as possible, and not to force them to talk.
For teenagers, they may be processing the Manchester attack on a whole different level than children younger. As the NCTSN noted, teenagers may be "overwhelmed by upsetting feelings, but want to look strong or act as if nothing is wrong." They caution that this could be a sign of traumatic grief, and teens may need professional help to work through their emotional response — and that's perfectly OK.
And if you're overwhelmed by your own grief and fears — because the Manchester attack is every parent's worst nightmare — it's important that you seek out help for yourself, too. When in doubt, no matter how you work through processing this tragic, senseless event, it helps to remember this powerful quote from Fred Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
In the wake of the Manchester attack, parents will be hugging their children a little tighter in the days and weeks to follow.