The horror, the fear, the abomination, the panic. We all woke up with heavy hearts this morning. We are overcome sadness and fear, as well as anger.
Again, they have attacked and killed innocent people en masse, people who had gone out on a Friday night. And this morning, while you're still in shock, your children come to you with their questions and fears.
They ask: Are we in danger too? Why is there police everywhere on the streets? Why have they done this? I'm afraid this will happen to us too. Could we die, too? What does a state of emergency mean?
A few hours after this terrible tragedy that's left us devastated, how do we find the right words to discuss it with our children? Is it better to say nothing at all? Or to wait for them to say something? Or, rather, to hide nothing?
We are rattled and afraid-- how can we not discuss this with our children? Don't forget that we represent a foundation of safety for them. We therefore need to be able to find words that would reassure them, and that would not reinforce their fears. Even with younger children, it is very important to talk about this, and to be ready to respond to their questions and concerns.
For younger children (ages four to six), it might be useful for you to explain what happened as if you were telling a story about good people and villains, without worrying too much about the words. You could also use sketches or a game to help you tell the story.
With children who are a few years older, you could make references to video games, in which there's often scenes of violence.
For teenagers, such incidents may be an opportunity to bring up issues surrounding politics or religion.
The risk of not saying anything at all --in an effort to protect them-- may actually push them to develop considerable anxiety, which could lead to nightmares and even depression a few weeks or months later.
Of course there's no magic formula, but you should avoid staying silent, if possible. Your child will inevitably see a photograph, or hear something on the radio, a conversation at school or elsewhere.
If you feel that they're sad and shaken up, do not neglect it, thinking that "it will pass." Consult a doctor or a psychologist who would help them to express their feelings.
Children need to be heard, and reassured that what you're feeling and going through is not their fault. And don't forget, the younger ones are like sponges, they can sense even the emotions you're not expressing!
The most important thing is to start a dialogue.
This post first appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.