Talking to Your Kids About The Christchurch Attack

On Friday 15th March 2019, a man attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch and shot dead 50 people. Within minutes our country’s innocence was gone.

I thought I was OK now. On Friday, I was in a state of shock and teary-eyed several times, especially when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that there were 40 fatalaties (later to be increased to 50). That moment was when I knew we would never be the same nation again.

But I thought I was OK now. However, after dropping my kids off at school on Monday morning, I couldn’t exit the school grounds due to five police cars screaming down the road, lights flashing, sirens wailing. For a moment I thought twice about leaving my kids – kids who are the same age as two of the victims of the mosque shootings. And yet what I am feeling is nothing compared to what has been experienced by the victims, the injured, the survivors, their families and friends, the first responders, the Muslim community, and those who are living in Christchurch.

This is us now

My initial thoughts when I saw the unfolding events on Friday were the same as many New Zealanders – “this is not us” and “this doesn’t happen here”. But now it has happened here and I so wish it hadn’t. I wish New Zealand wasn’t trending on Twitter for this. I wish we weren’t the major headline on CNN for this. I wish the world’s landmarks weren’t lit up with the New Zealand flag for this. I wish rugby players weren’t wearing black arm bands for this. I wish my kids didn’t have to observe a minute’s silence before their sports match on Saturday for this. Because it all makes it so real. But all of this is necessary. All of this is part of our show of unity, our expression of support, and our grieving and healing process.

What do we tell the kids?

Before my child’s sports match on the weekend, during the discussion about observing a minute’s silence, a mother said to me, “a minute’s silence is the right thing to do, even though the kids don’t really understand what has happened.”

I beg to differ. These were 13 and 14 year olds. Throughout the game I could hear the kids talking amongst themselves about the attack, about what happened, about what might follow, with surprising clarity and understanding. Just because YOU are not talking to your kids about stuff, it doesn’t mean that they don’t hear about these things and that they aren’t having their own discussions and forming their own worst-case scenarios. And it is so much better to hear the truth and the appropriate reassurance from you than from the gossip that goes around the school quad. But try to focus on the helpers, ie, the police who captured the attacker, the heroic actions of their fellow human beings, the medical staff who perform miracles to save lives. Urge them to see the everyday heroes.

Supporting children after a traumatic event

Following the events in Christhcurch, the Ministry of Health has developed two resources in both English and Arabic to assist those in mental distress. More languages are being added and you can check here for updates.

Coping after a traumatic event (PDF)
التأقلم بعد التعرض إلى حادث مؤلم (PDF)
Supporting your kids after a traumatic event (PDF)
نصائح بشأن تقديم الدعم لأطفالك بعد التعرض لصدمة (PDF)

These resources include the following tips for supporting children:

  1. Reassure your children that the event is over and they are safe.
  2. Encourage them to talk about how they feel about what happened.
  3. Tell them they can ask questions, and answer these in plain language appropriate to their age – be honest but avoid details of the trauma.
  4. Avoid extended exposure to the event – try not to talk about it constantly, turn the news off, and shut down social media for a while.
  5. Tell them that feeling upset or afraid is normal, and that telling you how they are feeling will help, that with time they will feel better.
  6. Don’t tell your child “don’t worry” or “don’t be upset” – it is natural to want to protect them from fear and difficult emotions, but they need to have their feelings acknowledged and validated as a normal response.
  7. Be understanding – they may have problems sleeping, tantrums, wet the bed – be patient and reassuring if this happens – again, with support and care it will pass.
  8. Give your children extra love and attention.
  9. Remember that children look to their parents to both feel safe and to know how to respond – reassure them, share that you are upset too but that you know you will all be fine together.
  10. Try to keep to normal routines – mealtimes, bedtimes etc. – allow them to get out and play, to go to the park etc.
  11. Try not to be over-protective, again this is a natural thing for a parent to do, but as part of keeping normal routines, it is helpful for your child to be distracted by going to the park, playing with friends outdoors etc. This helps them feel that their world is safe again, and that normal life can go on.
  12. HOWEVER if a child’s distress is escalating, or they are displaying any worrying behaviours – extreme withdrawal, terror that you cannot comfort them from etc – seek help early. Your GP is a good start, or you can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk it through with a trained counsellor.

Source: NZ Ministry of Health. You can find more information on the Ministry of Health website or in the resources above.

You can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.

her world julieWritten by Julie Scanlon

Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire. 

Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”

7 Comments

  1. kymmage 31/03/2019 at 10:31 pm

    My eldest and I talked about it when it first happened. She didn’t want any details. She knows people died. She doesn’t want to know who and I have respected that as she is devastated enough without knowing about the poor children who were there as well. My youngest I told her enough for her to know a bad thing happened and that she is still safe. She has been absolutely fine. Sad but okay. Last week we went to a big community event and my eldest asked me if we were safe there. We talked about the police presence and that we can’t live in fear. So hard 😢

  2. dawnblyth 31/03/2019 at 10:21 pm

    My 10 year old was in lockdown, my 4 year old and husband had gone to school to collect him – they ended up in lockdown too – all while I was sleeping as I had given blood that morning and felt a little lightheaded. I woke up to heaps of missed calls and messages from family and friends asking if we were ok. The blood bank is just down the road from Al Nor Mosque, my son’s school has a mosque just up the road. When the children were released from lockdown, at around 6pm that night, they got home and my 4yr old said there were armed police at the school. I have had two hospital appts since the attacks and there are multiple armed police at the entrances. Everywhere you go there are flowers, messages of support and love. I have a friend, a muslim woman, who lost people she knew. This attack has affected everyone in so many different ways. I think the best way to approach this situation is whatever is going to work for you and your family – take the advice offered and make it work for you. Peace and love to all.

  3. Alezandra 27/03/2019 at 11:33 pm

    I’ve felt affected by this news. But amazed at the heroism, the compassion, the love of the New Zealand people. I am one of those people that Jacinda mentioned that chose this country to live in. I’ve been anxious about raising my son here as we are a minority here but I am glad to see how people have turned this terrorism into something positive instead – showing strength, unity and hope. I’m glad and I’m hopeful for the next generation. My 4 year old doesn’t understand this fully and have not been bothered by it.

  4. MuddledUpMolly 26/03/2019 at 12:04 pm

    Our 9 year old came home from school to say they had had a minute of silence but he didn’t really know anything about it. We decided to tell him what had happened but we just gave him very minimal details, as we don’t feel he needs to know the full details. Very sad times indeed 🙁

  5. SarahBlair 25/03/2019 at 11:33 am

    To be perfectly honest, I wish that I didn’t have to talk to my kids about this, I wish that I didn’t have to burst their bubble of complete security, I wish that I didn’t have to inform them of the bad people that live in our society that will willingly, purposely hurt and even kill other people simply because they didn’t look the same and believe the same things as those bad people. I hate that I have to destroy my kids innocence. But if I don’t tell them someone else will, and at least I can tell them just enough that they understand without telling them too much to cause trauma, and to try to ensure that they still retain some sense of security and innocence.

  6. Mands1980 19/03/2019 at 11:22 am

    This is such a sad occasion everyone I feel is still on edge. Sunday night in ashburton they had the police eagle helicopter overhead for several hours social media was in full use thinking something else had happened as our mosque was under police guard. The helicopter was for a police chase but in people’s mind they are scared and nervous when they hear things now. My kids have seen the news and heard it all on radio and I knew several children in lockdown at schools in chch. It still feels unreal we can only talk to our kids about it and not shit it away as it has happened in little (NZ).

  7. Bevik1971 18/03/2019 at 4:37 pm

    My heart goes out to all especially if closely involved with this awful, tragic event. I really just don’t have words – my 6 year old’s school had an assembly today and explained to the children what happened, not in detail of course, but that a man had shot people in Christchurch. My daughter was telling me about it when I picked her up from school and asked me why he did it etc? I tried to explain that sometimes some people don’t like other people and what they believe in and they do stupid things and hurt people. Kia Kaha NZ x

Leave A Comment