Manchester bombing: How do we explain terrorism to our children?

Saffie Roussos, 8, was killed in the Manchester bombing
Saffie Roussos, 8, was killed in the Manchester bombing

My daughter Maria is nine. She loves teddies, David Walliams books and fizzy sweets, but above all, she loves Ariana Grande.

Had the petite American singer been in Belfast, I’m sure we would have been in the concert hall; Maria star-struck to be the presence of the petite pop princess; me, probably bored out of mind at having to endure the awful twee music.

But, after the horrendous events in Manchester, I think a little piece of my daughter’s innocence has been stolen.

For now, in her nine-year-old mind, she associates Ariana Grande, with ‘bad men’ and the death of another little girl, just a year younger than her - who probably had an equally large collection of teddies and also loved Sherbet Dip-Dabs.

Much as we would love for our children never to have to hear about such grotesque events, it is impossible to wrap them in cotton wool, to shield them from the wider world.

We are surrounded by news. There are 24/7 news channels, radio, newspapers, the internet and smart phones. And, of course, there is the playground.

When Maria came home from school, it was all she wanted to talk about.

When the news came on she wanted to watch it.

And so, on Tuesday night, we sat on the sofa and watched the footage of young people at a pop concert running for their lives.

We heard that 22 people died and dozens more injured.

We saw the picture of the youngest victim, Saffie Rose Roussos, a beautiful little girl with dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, and Maria cried. She cried for Saffie.

She asked me was the bomb Ariana Grande’s fault, why did they do it, why did they have to kill children, why did they have to kill Saffie.

Straightforward questions with so many answers, there are no answers.

She asked if the same thing could happen here. Are we safe here? Could it happen to her?

I tried to reassure her, but I don’t thing she fully bought my reassurance.

The incomprehension and fear was still there in her young eyes.

Undoubtedly, countless parents around the UK and the world will have had, and be having, the same conversations with their children.

Growing up through the troubles I remember my own parents trying to explain the atrocities and why our neighbour, a lovely, smart, funny man with a daughter the same age of me, was shot dead on his way to work as a teacher. It didn’t make sense to me then.

It still doesn’t.

Processing the nightmare of the terrorist attacks is tough enough for grown-ups.

So how do you explain it to children?

How do you answer their tricky questions about terrorism, religion and the slaughter of children the same age as them.

I clumsily explained to my daughter that there are horrible people who are full of hate and want everyone to see the world the way they see it, and their weapon of choice is fear.

I told her that attacks like Manchester are very rare.

That terrorists want to frighten people into changing the way we live and the best way to fight them is to behave normally.

I tired to be truthful, yet reassuring.

To convey that there is far more good in the world than bad. And that most people are decent and kind.

As adults our life experience enables us to, eventually, mentally file away such monstrosities.

For children trying to make sense of the world, the news can be desperately alarming and so impactful.

Sadly, and like many parents, I suspect, in recent times I have had too many conversations with my child about terrorism.

We’ve talked after Brussels, after Paris, after Nice, after Westminster. The list goes on.

She can’t make sense it. And the truth is, neither can I.

What I can do, however, is hug her tight and tell her I love her and think of the parents of Saffie Rose Roussos, and all the other grieving parents and children, for whom a pop concert on Monday, May 23, 2017, was the day their music died.