My son is one. I can’t exactly talk to him about what’s going on in the world right now because, thankfully, his world consists of me, me, more me and a little Daniel Tiger once in a while. It occurred to me this morning that a new slew of articles will be posted on parenting websites about how to talk to your kids about tragedies like the most recent shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas. It also occurred to me that while I have no idea how I’ll handle that conversation, I do know that these talks will be unavoidable. I’m not stuck in the reactive zone wondering how to do damage control. I’m in the proactive zone wondering how to prepare my child for the inevitable.
So, how do you prepare your child to handle acts of terror, large or small?
There’s plenty of good practical advice out there for parents looking to train their children about the practicalities of responding to a terror attack. Any child who attends public schools goes through a series of preparedness drills on a monthly basis in order to know what to do in case of fire or an active shooter in the building. Reviewing these plans together as a family is a logical step.
It is also a good idea to teach your child basic self-defense using a method that encourages awareness of their general surroundings and helps to develop a strong sense of self control. I’m a huge advocate of Krav Maga and can’t wait until my son is old enough to attend classes.
But, how do we prepare our children to emotionally and psychologically process a terror attack?
In 2007, NATAL, Israel’s Trauma Center for Victims of Terrorism and War, conducted a survey in the Israeli town of Sderot. Due to Sderot’s close proximity to the the Gaza border, it has been the target of constant rocket attacks since Israel ceded the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in 2005. An entire generation of children has grown up under rocket fire. As a result, at least 75% of children under the age of 18 suffer from PTSD.
According to the NATAL survey of the Sderot population, there are a number of factors that increase the likelihood of developing PTSD. These include gender (women are significantly more susceptible than men), education level and family health – if a parent suffers from PTSD, chances are their child will, too. Most significantly, the survey revealed that “a lack of knowledge and tools for coping at the time of an incident increases the tendency for developing PTSD.”
Sderot is an extreme example. Unfortunately, it is also a valuable one. The foundational step for preparing ourselves and our children to handle terrorism isn’t found in the practical or the physical, but in the psychological arena. Preparing children to respond to and cope with terrorism requires us to equip them with the right tools to process the stress they will encounter. Call it Mister Rogers on steroids if you want; the bottom line is, our kids need to know how to recognize and communicate what they’re feeling and thinking if they are going to survive the trauma of terrorism.
What’s more, we as parents are responsible for the seed planting that allows them to cultivate a knowledge of God and an ensuing sense of personal strength. A Holocaust survivor once told me that he instantly recognized the lies of the Nazis who claimed to be God’s army. “I looked at them and knew this wasn’t God,” he insisted, “this was not the God I was taught to know.” Ignoring the power of a relationship with God leaves our children vulnerable to terror. King David once wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear: The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom should I be afraid?” Do we want our children to be kings or cannon fodder?
I’m learning to accept the fact that I am responsible for being proactive, not reactive when it comes to preparing my child to handle terrorism. I must prepare him psychologically as well as physically and practically. This means introducing him to God and encouraging him to develop a strong faith in Him as well as in himself.