woman plays with child

© British Red Cross

News about a terrorist attack is always frightening, but for families times like these can be especially hard.

How do you talk to children about traumatic events like those in Barcelona, London, or Manchester? Should you be honest, or is it best to turn the TV off and shield them from the news?

Here’s some advice from British Red Cross expert Dr Sarah Davidson.

Keep it simple

The key, when explaining an event such as a terrorist attack to children, is not going into detail.

You should not lie but you also want to keep it low key. Offer a simple, direct explanation that is age appropriate.

It’s fine to say, for example, that there was an explosion in town. Avoid euphemism and graphic detail. Keep it as simple as possible.

It is really important to keep normal routines going, such as school and bed time.

Common signs of distress

Some common signs that may signal a child’s distress include bed wetting and becoming clingy or afraid to go outdoors.

Their sleep might be disturbed and their diet might change. You should watch out for children acting younger than their age.

However, these signs do not mean that a child isn’t coping – simply that they may need more support from their parents and carers.

Like adults, children are fundamentally resilient. Reassure them that their home and school are safe places, and that these events, while tragic, rarely happen.

Practical and emotional support in Manchester

flowers commemorating victims of the Manchester attack

© Teresa Goncalves /British Red Cross

Sarah’s team of volunteers have been providing emotional and psychological support to families affected by the Manchester bombing.

They have a lot of experience supporting people who have witnessed or been affected by traumatic events. These include terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Six volunteers were also on-hand to provide support to people following the recent London Bridge attack.

Supporting the victims of terrorism

We have launched an appeal in partnership with Manchester City Council to raise funds for people affected by the attack.

The Manchester Emergency Fund will support people who have been injured or bereaved. Donations will help alleviate immediate suffering and ensure that victims and their families do not face short-term financial difficulties.

We have also launched the UK Solidarity Fund following the London terror attack on Saturday 3 June. The Fund will support people who have been injured, bereaved or traumatised by terror attacks in the UK, helping to alleviate immediate suffering and ensure that victims and their families do not face short-term financial difficulties.

This post was updated on 18 August 2017.