How To Talk to Children About Terrorism, Hate and Violence

With a few clicks separating us from the news, we live in a hyper-connected world. And as our children are connected, even the youngest may not be shielded from the horrific videos and images of domestic terrorism erupting in Charlottesville, VA. These horrific events are the result of fear and ignorance and are a harbinger. This is unfortunately what the next few years could be as people are emboldened to use violence to express their grievances.


We must condemn atrocious acts of violence, but we must not react with hate, as it will only contribute to the “us vs. them” narrative. These sentiments force populations to choose a side, thereby making everything extreme. Let me be clear that we must not tolerate violence and hate speech. But we cannot counter hate with hate.


Though it is understandable that we want to protect our children’s innocence for as long as possible, we must accept that parenting in this age means preparing our kids to experience or witness events outside our control. The way we can help prepare them is to cultivate and nurture critical thinking as they evaluate what they read and see; rather than to blindly accept whatever and however news is presented.


As parents, we want to inspire compassion in our children, and our words and actions bear the most weight on shaping who they become.

So how do we nurture more empathetic children in a time of violence? Here are four practical ways for encouraging our children to lead their lives during these times:


1. Be selective about how you present information. We must teach our children to evaluate facts from opinions. Teach them to understand the source of the information they receive. Discuss the reality that each source will have differing analysis and perspectives of the very same issue and that every action is meant to invoke a reaction. What is their reaction? Help them identify the emotions that bubble up. And ask them, “Is this emotion coming from a place of fear?”


2. Learn to learn. When your children understand the grievances of others and the root causes of the issues, they can then naturally recognize ignorance. Think of it as an opportunity to teach your kids about the ways they can educate themselves on the tensions and how they can peacefully contribute to improve these awful situations. Learning about the reality of domestic and global issues and the terrible things happening in the world can be scary and difficult for children to digest. But by ignoring issues altogether will only harm them in the future by instilling a sense of helplessness. This is when you can assure them that there are heroes among us working to counter the hate and that they do not have to accept things as they are. They can become a part of the goodness of the world.


3. Connect your children with the diversity of the country and of the world. When we educate children about the world — diverse people, ideologies, and issues — and reveal commonalities, they’ll see that these issues are not new. As you discuss global issues or read stories, point out ways your children can identify with others. Once they learn to connect with diverse groups of people and recognize the things that unite us, rather than divide us, they’ll feel a sense of meaning in giving back and place a higher value on humanity. This is how we can teach our children to value one another by what we share in common, rather than, for example, the different colors of our skin.


4. Build hope through love and celebration. Turn the TV and computer off and look at positive things that are happening around us. Spend time with each other creating memories and reinforcing love and the sense of unity. Talk about what is right and good with the world. There are everyday champions making sacrifices for the benefit of mankind everywhere you look. From as simple as someone politely holding open a door -  to as vast as an activist dedicated to fostering peace. Making a conscious effort to acknowledge these acts of service will encourage your children to find the opportunities to participate as well. Relaying stories of bravery also emphasizes the importance of being solution-oriented. The more we teach our children about the world and how people are solving problems, the harder they will push themselves to think of creative solutions for our issues at home.


As parents, our children normalize every move we make. When they hear a scathing, one-sided reaction to a social issue, then that becomes their baseline response. Teaching our children to be increasingly compassionate humans starts with our demonstrating it in practice every day, in every way. 


To keep our children in a bubble is a disservice to them. By talking about the issues and acknowledging that the world is affecting them, you will be their advocate and the people they turn to when they are confused. By being willing to show them that it is normal to fear, but that we must train ourselves to not react in fear, it sets up the realizations that violence is not the way to approach any issue.


Behind all the negativity flooding the news, there are good people working diligently to improve it. By finding the inspiration in these stories and instilling in our children a sense of unity and hope, we can raise a world of socially conscious individuals who collectively break down barriers to drive real, sustainable change.


Practical tip: Be vigilant of the volume of violent media your child consumes, particularly video or pictorial.  Our children do not need to see the second by second re-runs of violence. Not only can this cause trauma, but it can also desensitize them to violence. Fill their childhoods up with moments of love, not  images of violence.


Mina Chang @


Mina Chang