Battle we face in protecting our children from terror fear

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14:   (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

The recent revelation that ChildLine has been inundated with calls from children as young as nine, terrified as a result of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the rest of the world came as upsetting news to local parents.

Indeed, it may even resonate with many, who have seen their own children display worrying signs of fear or anxiety that the horrifying wave of attacks could reach their own doorstep.

Mairead Monds says that children as young as 14 have called ChildLine to voice fears over possible terror attacks here

Mairead Monds says that children as young as 14 have called ChildLine to voice fears over possible terror attacks here

And because there is nothing worse than seeing your own child frightened, as adults we are desperate to know how best to combat it, and ensure our children continue to feel as safe and secure as possible.

One of the most effective ways of doing this, according to the chief executive of Parenting NI, which offers support to parents across the province, is by taking an ‘age appropriate’ response in terms of how much information to allow their kids to have access to.

“We would certainly be saying to parents with younger children to avoid letting them see very distressing pictures and television coverage - which may be difficult, especially when parents are interested at the height of it,” said Pip Jaffa, who is also a well known spokesperson on children’s issues in Northern Ireland.

“But it is important for younger children not to see that, and for them not to sense and see the anxiety in their parents, or think there is something to be anxious and worried about.

“With older children, it is more possible to have a conversation about it, and explain that these are very rare events, and are very unfortunate and sad, but do happen.

“The older children and adolescents can also become much more involved in the debate, and what it’s all to do with, and so on.”

Ms Jaffa was speaking in light of the news which emerged recently that the NSPCC’s child helpline, ChildLine, had reported more than 100 calls from scared children, who told counsellors they were were too frightened to leave the house in case anything happened to them.

Some even said they were worried that the world was on the brink of a third world war.

One 12-year-old girl told a ChildLine counsellor: “I have heard that Isis are in the UK and are planning a deadly attack. I don’t feel safe any more and am having nightmares. These worries are in my mind all the time and I can’t get them out.”

Some children from ethnic communities even reported bullying following the attacks, as part of a backlash against the Muslim community.

Speaking about the “avalanche” of calls to the helpline, NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “This only adds to the feelings of fear and sadness that these evil attacks have prompted around the world. Many of the victims were young people and that will have heightened the fears of those who have seen others their age brutally murdered.

“It is crucial that children can talk about their feelings following these senseless killings, and are given reassurance and support.”

A few days later, it was reported that the NSPCC had set up an anti-terror hotline for parents in wake of the attacks.

Speaking to the News Letter, Pip Jaffa said that children will often take the lead from their parents - “as they do with anything”.

She added: “If parents feel their childtren are becoming a little bit affected, and there’s too much conversation about it, it’s important to change it, to keep that sense of security and safety, and to keep their routines regular and so on.”

She believes that younger children should be completely protected from unsettling or frightening scenes on TV, whilst measured explanations can be given to older children.

“If they ask what is going on, you could say, ‘there are some very bad people and they did something terrible, but this kind of thing is very rare and we are quite safe here. You go to school and you go here and there, and to visit granny and all of that, and it doesn’t affect you, so you don’t need to worry about it.

“I would, however, be encouraging parents not to have these sorts of conversations near bedtime. And if you think there are signals that your older child is dwelling on it, or becoming overwhelmed, you could seek some additional advice, but that is quite unusual.

“A lot of it is to do with us as parents helping the children feel as secure on a day to day basis as possible, and answering their questions and not dismissing them or leaving them wondering, as they will believe that there must be something really strange going on if mummy or daddy are not talking about it.”

Pip said that any parents who themselves felt worried about the current world situation could get advice via the free phone helpline - 0808 8010722.

“If the parents themselves are really upset about this, they need to get their own support, so that they are in a better emotional state when they are around the children. If they are not coping well they need to get the help.”