In Response to Paris: Talking To Your Kids

The father of Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Exec. Director, NAMLE, was a victim of the Pan Am Flight 103 terrorist bombing, and in this poignant post, she share tips from her own personal experience on ways to discuss the tragic Paris bombings with kids. #PeaceforParis

There are lots of people who want to know what to say to their kids about what happened in Paris. As a parent and a media literacy educator, I want to share this with you.

When my son was around 5 years old, he asked me a question I’d been waiting a long time to be asked. “How did your dad die?” Even though I had anticipated this question, I was a deer in headlights. I didn’t know where to start.

You see, when I was 17 years old, my father was a passenger aboard Pan Am 103 when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland due to a bomb placed on board by terrorists. From the moment I became pregnant for the first time, I wondered how I would explain this to my children. What would I tell them? How would I tell them? When would I tell them?

The truth is I didn’t answer my son’s question that day. I said something along the lines of, “It’s really complicated, bud. I think we should talk about it when you are a little older.” Yep, I panicked. I then called his pediatrician and asked for a referral to a child psychologist so that I could talk to an expert about how all this should unfold.

When my husband and I sat down with the psychologist, I wanted her to tell me how I can share what I had to share without making my kids nervous wrecks. How can they know what really happened to their Grandpa and in turn to their mother without feeling intense sadness and fear for the rest of their lives? The advice that she gave me was invaluable. Here are the 3 things she told me.

  1. Only answer the questions that your child asks. Do not offer more information. Keep it simple and straightforward.

  2. Focus on what came after the tragedy not the tragedy itself. Share the stories of strength, love, and hope. Tell them the bad men have been punished and cannot hurt us anymore.

  3. Remember that this is not their tragedy. They may not be sad or fearful. Kids can separate themselves. Don’t be surprised if they don’t show much emotion at all.

I went back to my son armed with this information. I said, “Remember when you asked me about my dad? I’m sorry that I didn’t know what to say. I wanted you to know that my dad was traveling home from London. There was a problem with his plane, and it crashed.”

Then, I waited. I am sure it was 3 seconds. It felt like 3 weeks.

My son looked at me and said, “Oh. Okay.” And went back to what he was doing.