Attacks in Paris: how to answer children's questions?

Attacks in Paris: how to answer children's questions?

The attacks of November 13 shock us all. We invite you, parents, adults, to re-read this interview with the child psychiatrist Catherine Jousselme who, at the time of the attacks of January 2015, explained to us how children react to violent events of this type and how we can talk to them about it.

We must explain to them what happened: attacks, deaths ... Of course, depending on the age of the children, the answers and explanations will be different. Professor Catherine Jousselme, a child psychiatrist at the Fondation Vallée in Gentilly, helps us to find the right words and the right reactions.

  • With a child under 6, Catherine Jousselme advises not to show images and to stay at basic information. Adults must say that what has just happened is serious for the whole country, that it touches and moves them. Above all, children must understand that adults are there and organize themselves to protect all the inhabitants of France.
  • Larger children, up to 10 or 11 years old, must be able to talk about the attack and the events that followed as a minute of silence at school. To their questions, but without anticipating them, we must provide factual answers. Exchanges with you must also enable them to understand that adults and the state ensure that this does not happen again, that the guilty are sought and that fraternity and solidarity are the only possible answers. Speak with them, offer to draw what they understand, explain the images if they have been confronted: they are simple ways to allow them to curb worries and anxieties that could invade them.
  • However, children do not all react in the same way and some will be more affected than others despite the parents' attention. A child who has frequent nightmares in the coming weeks, who loses the taste for play or food, will have to be given special attention. It will be necessary to encourage him to express himself, by discussing, by drawing with him. Even allowing him to meet a professional - doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist - who will help him.
  • Teens are they exposed to the information very directly via internet and social networks. The more they are informed, the more it is necessary to be present with them. We need to help them frame their reactions and give simple information about the law that protects freedom of expression and prohibits murder and the need to stand in solidarity with an event of such violence that it can lead to chain reactions. It is important that they feel that adults are strong supports, both in the family and at school.
  • Some may be confronted with violent comments from other teenagers around them or on social networks. If they tell you what they say, you have to make sure that the answer is not in this spiral of violence and possibly report these behaviors in middle school or high school. It's up to adults to deal with these issues, not them.
  • Finally, do not leave them alone with all the images they have access to so easily on their phones, computers or on television. This flow of images can be very distressing and lock them into a very degraded view of life in society. Help them to do something else, to discuss, even to participate in the many actions and gatherings organized if they are starting.

Download the document made by Astrapi magazine to talk about the attacks in Paris with your child

About Catherine Jousselme collected by Hélène Devannes - Illustration Frédéric Benaglia