How to talk with children about what happened in Paris?

Guest post by Carmen Verschuur


Friday 13th… Just an ordinary evening. We watch a film…Kids are in bed… All is silent. The i-pad purrs like a cat…..purr….purr… It doesn’t stop. Breaking news in Paris. What’s going on there? We read the news and in the end go to bed, when Paris is not.

Next morning… The picture of a disaster wakes up: 130 Innocent people killed and a city in shock. My daughter watches the news that evening, like she does every day. “What’s going on in Paris, mummy?” I am silent… not knowing what to say. We watch together.
A week later. Early Saturday morning, my husbands’ i-phone purrs. “Brussels is in a complete lockdown,” he says…Stage 4…

On Sunday evening we receive an email: No school tomorrow until further notice. On the news we see police actions and 21 people arrested just a few miles away; this all is followed by a night of social media silence and ‘Tweeting cats’. It’s hard to believe that we visited “Manneke Pis” and “La Grand Place” 10 days ago. Then, it was just Brussels, City of Chips and Chocolates. Now, capital of breaking news. Family and friends from around the world send us e-mails to check and to support. We moved to Brussels only recently.

On Monday my husband goes to work and we stay at home. It’s a chilly morning. For the first time this year, the roofs of the houses look white of frost. I open the door. Chill air fills the hall. The sound of an ambulance is far away. The sound of Brussels, What’s going on with you? Stage 4…Whatever that means.
We spend the days by staying at home and visiting other mums in same situation. The nearby Ikea is closed and public events are cancelled. “ If you want to do shopping at the hyper Carrefour, you can only enter via one entrance and bags are inspected by policemen”, my friend tells me. We chat, but are distracted. My daughter asks: “Mummy, why are you checking your i-phone constantly?” “To check any news about Brussels”, I respond. Why is it? To get more information? What is it that I’m looking for?
I tell my daughter about what’s going on and that I feel insecure and that I don’t have all the answers. My daughter goes on “Well, at least in Paris they didn’t tell anything, in Brussels they do…..” And she starts brushing her teeth…Who’s they?, I ask myself…

On Wednesday schools in Brussels open again. Thursday stage 4 becomes stage 3. Whatever that means…How much information do you want? Does it help? Who do you trust? And what do you tell your children?

As the days go by, I notice that my immediate fear fades, but awareness grows… My awareness that we are vulnerable and that we can’t overly protect ourselves. Life does go on and we have to live with that.
In this time year, at Sinterklaas (St. Nicolas), Thanksgiving and Christmas, we celebrate what bonds us all: The love for the ones we love and the ones we want to protect. Therefore, whether stage 3 or 4: With love from Brussels!

Tips for parents: how to talk with children about what happened in Brussels?

– Create a moment to sit down and talk with your child according to its age;

– Let them tell you what they heard, saw and how they feel about it and listen carefully;

– Tell your children if you don’t know the answer (it’s not a shame!); children understand you can’t know everything.

– Tell and show them you love them.

Carmen is Life coach and mother of young children. Originally from Holland, she spent three years as an expat in the UK and since September 2015 she lives with her family in Brussels. She used to work as a solicitor in family law. She found that an expat experience is pushing your boundaries and settling in goes with ‘ups and downs’. As a result of her professional and personal experiences she now offers a combination of emotional and practical support to help expats in building up a new life and deal with life events.