How Do You Explain The Paris Attacks To Kids?

Kids need a safe environment to process the fear and sadness.

When a tragedy strikes, especially something as senselessly violent as the attacks that took place in Paris on Friday (Nov. 13), it can be difficult for adults to process and understand their grief and fear. It's even harder for kids, who aren't yet equipped to handle the more grim realities of the world.

Child psychologist Jillian Roberts, who counseled parents after 9/11 and has written a new book titled "What Happens When A Loved One Dies" about explaining the concept of death to kids, gave MTV News some advice on how older folks can help kids (from the very little to the not-so-little) understand and cope in the aftermath of something that's so hard to comprehend.

  1. Don't tell very young kids more than they should know.

    If we're talking about super young kids who don't really know what's going on, Dr. Roberts said it's best to let them hold on to that blissful ignorance for a bit longer; it gives kids time to mature and grow and develop the capacity to cope with something tragic or violent.

    "If a child is young and has not noticed what is going on in the world — this is not the time to shed any kind of light," Roberts said. "We need to give kids time to grow up emotionally before they face the challenges of the world."

  2. Make sure they feel safe.

    In today's world, kids are perceptive and often share information among themselves earlier than a parent would like. If a young child figures out what's happening, Roberts said it's possible for the fear and stress to be more than they can handle.

    That's why it's important for adults to make sure kids feel "secure, safe and hopeful," Roberts said. They should know that there are people -- from the police to the government to their parents -- who are looking out for them.

  3. Practice self-care.

    Adults should also look out for themselves too, Roberts said. This means seeking help from family members, friends or therapists if they need to process their own trauma, but absolutely never putting that responsibility on kids.

    "Be careful to keep your own emotions in check and do not ruminate about worst case scenarios within earshot of little ones," Roberts said. "If you need support, call on support. Go get help if you need it. Do not use your kids as counselors."

  4. Don't surround yourself (or little kids) with bad news.

    The 24-hour news cycle during a tragic event can be traumatic for an adult, but it's even moreso for children. It's important to give yourself a break.

    "Do not have the radio or TV running non-stop in the background," Roberts said. "This happened a lot to the children I worked with during 9/11 and it was terrible for them -- they did not know how to process it all."

  5. If they ask 'why?' try to give them an answer.

    Roberts said that if a very young child asks why something so horrible could happen, adults should try to explain it in simple terms. "Try: Sometimes people are really mixed up. They do not understand the difference between right and wrong. But, let's be clear: It is always wrong to intentionally hurt someone. It is always right to try and help those who are hurt."

  6. As they grow older, help kids understand and learn more.

    As a child reaches an age where they can understand more nuance, Roberts said teachers, parents and loved ones should help them understand some of the more complex parts of a story (historical backgrounds, ideology, etc.), while also helping them maintain a positive and hopeful outlook.

    "Help them understand the complexities and why some people in the world can become so confused. Ensure that they know that as a world we must do better to strive for peace."

  7. Teach compassion and combat hatred.

    Although emotions run high in times of tragedy and senseless violence, Roberts said it's imperative that we raise kids to work for peace in productive and compassionate ways, and to avoid developing a sense of hatred toward any particular group.

    Ultimately, times of sadness and grief can be turned into "an opportunity to teach compassion." With young children, she said, it's empowering to give them opportunities to become "helpers." Acts like offering a supportive drawing, letter or a visit with a neighbor or friend who was touched by a tragedy can keep a child positive by giving them a chance to do some good.

    "Burning mosques and being hateful is just another form of terrorism," Roberts said. "Let's do the opposite. Let's ingrain love and peace into children. Let us teach our children the difference between right and wrong. Let us not teach our children to hate back."