How to discuss a terrorist attack with your pupils

Terrorist attacks will leave some pupils feeling anxious, stressed or confused. Discussing the attack in the safety of the classroom is an important step in dealing with these feelings, says the PSHE Association

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The PSHE Association advises teachers that it can be counterproductive to pretend that nothing has happened after a terrorist attack. Instead, it suggests that providing opportunities for pupils to discuss the events in the safety of the classroom can help them to process what has happened and focus again on their learning.

However, the association adds that some children – perhaps those with strong emotional or personal connections to the events – may initially prefer to ignore what has happened. This should be respected, although teachers should make it clear that they will be available for discussion at a later point.

Fears and worries

The PSHE Association and the NSPCC children’s charity offer the following key points of advice for teachers wanting to discuss the attacks:

  • listen carefully to children’s fears and worries
  • offer reassurance and comfort, and avoid complicated explanations that may leave children feeling even more frightened and confused
  • allow children to talk about their feelings
  • recognise that terrorist attacks can result in a range of strong feelings, from curiosity and excitement to personal anxiety and fear
  • understand that different children express their feelings in different ways
  • encourage questions and answer them honestly
  • clarify the facts: what has happened? What is happening now? How do we know?
  • help children separate the facts from speculation and rumour. Ask them whether the facts could support different interpretations
  • the aftermath of such events can bring out positive and negative responses in human beings. Education should enhance the first and challenge the second
  • children should not be placed in a position of defending their community or faith
  • children should understand that the number of people supporting a rumour does not affect the likelihood of its being true
  • consider marking the attack as a school, with a minute’s silence, a special assembly, a remembrance book, a display or by holding a fundraising event for a relevant charity

For more information, see the PSHE Association’s guidance. Any adult worried about how a child is coping following a terrorist attack can contact the NSPCC Helpline for 24/7 help, support and advice on 0808 800 5000 or NAHT members can also speak to the union's advisers on 0300 30 30 333. 

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