Parents and Teachers: How to Talk to Children about the Paris Attacks


How to Talk to Kids about the Paris Attacks and Other Tragic Events

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Many of us stayed up late watching everything we could about the tragic Paris Attacks on Friday night. We waited to find out more on Saturday about how many lives were lost, if the perpetrators were all captured and how France and other nations were going to respond.

As a mother of a 5 and 6 year old, I kept the news off while they were in the room and remember running up to the TV to turn it off when a Sunday morning story about the death toll suddenly came on—that’s not the way I want them to find out. Still, I don’t have my head in the sand. it’s important to be prepared to discuss these tragic situations as children hear a great deal in school and from their friends. And with older children in late elementary school, middle school or high school, they likely have head about it already.

How should parents handle it when a large-scale tragedy occurs in the world such as the Paris Attacks?

  • You are the trusted source: If you have a feeling that your children will hear about the tragedy in school, talk to them about it as soon as possible. You can give them the information that is true, appropriate and helpful. Older children might want to learn more about who was involved in the attacks- and there are some websites that provide easy-to-understand information that you can read together or you can read and then discuss the points that you feel are necessary. For example there is this and this for explanations of more complicated facts.
  • Use age-appropriate language and information: Children don’t need to hear the gory details. Give them the information that they need to know in words that they would understand. You can be factual without being gruesome. It is important to set the tone and provide the facts instead of allowing someone else, who may not be correct or appropriate, to do it for you.
  • Allow emotions and fears to surface: Don’t dismiss your children’s fears or emotions. Rather, allow them to have a safe place to express them. If you are upset (as humans, of course we are!), you can talk about being sad or frustrated without going into full detail or matching their intensity. For example, you can say; “I am sad this happened to these people” or “I am frustrated that I can’t help.” In fact, it’s best for adults to talk to other adults about their own feelings rather than delving in deep with children who may not be fully equipped yet to understand.
  • Let them know they are safe: Children are often concerned with their own safety and the safety of their friends and family surrounding them. Make sure they know that events such as these are rare. Talk to them about the adults in this world who are doing what they can to keep the people safe. Discuss the helpers, the heroes and those who are taking action to create peace in this world.
  • Keep an open door: Many children will need more than one conversation to put their questions, fears and concerns to rest. Let your children know that you are available to talk to them if they have questions. You may not know all the answers, but you will do your best to find them out or explore them with your child. For older children, don’t assume that they fully know what’s going on or that you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them what they know and how they feel about it. If you feel that there is a better person for your children to talk to about this tragedy, be the bridge or the passageway to the right person so your children feel that their questions have been answered.
  • Honor the loss of life: Whether the tragedy was Sandy Hook, The Boston Marathon bombing or the Paris Attacks, find ways to honor those who were lost. This may be orchestrated through a moment of silence, a family donation or finding ways to help personally.
  • Understand that children all react differently: Some children will want to talk about what’s happening while others might clam up. Some will have lots of questions, while others might seem disinterested. All children react differently. Be aware of hidden signs that a child is upset. For example, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping, withdrawing from friends or wanting to spend more time with family, acting out with poor behavior or wanting to stay home from school. Be open if and when your children become open to talking about the Paris Attacks or tragic events like them.

The best thing we can do for our children is to give them the time, space and arena to discuss their feelings and questions. Just being there can be a comfort when tragedies like the Paris Attacks, the Boston bombing, Sandy Hook occur. And of course, as always, hug them tight and tell them that they are loved. Feeling safe and secure can go a long, long way.

Dr. Robyn Signature


Pros and Cons of Children in Sports: Dr. Robyn Silverman on The Today Show

The Today Show brought me on today to kick off a series on children and sports along side football player, Greg Jennings!

What are some of the benefits that children gain from playing sports?

There are so many reasons why sports are great for kids, from the obvious physical reasons to learning social skills to lowering the probability of engaging in risky behavior like drug abuse. But one of my favorite benefits of sports and one I love to present about to children and adults—is that sports can help develop character and grit in children—teaching them to set goals, go after them, overcome barriers and showing them that if these kids dig deep, they have what it takes to achieve those goals.

There are so many pressures placed on the parents and the kids. If you want your child to be the best, you need to get the private coaches or you need to have them practice five days per week. At what point is enough, enough?

First, I think one of the key phrases we need to illuminate here is “if YOU want your child to be the best.” Children have to be as invested (or more) in their particular sport as their parents are or “enough is enough” is going to come way too quickly. Sports are about the children and the team, rather than the parents’ goals. Read more


Is struggle good for kids? Kate Winslet talks about the good in divorce


“I think it’s very important to teach your children to struggle on some level,” actress, Kate Winslet tells Harper’s Bizaar this month.

This month, Kate Winslet is featured in Harper’s Bizaar. In it, she talks about her divorce and how it created a struggle for her children– and that struggle can be good.

How can this be?

  • When children go through a struggle and come out the other side, they learn that they are stronger than they thought—that they can handle more than they dreamed—and that they are more prepared for what life will hand them.
  • They can learn that change can be good. Change is going to happen—so being able to handle change and see the silver lining is important to moving forward. Perhaps they can see that there is less fighting or less stress—that the new solution is actually more comfortable.
  • A moderate amount of struggle can show children that powerful character and grit can get them through to the other side. Grit is developed when our children are put under reasonable pressure and they find that by reaching inward and reaching out to key adults and friends, they can endure and thrive (I speak about grit in several of my presentations and believe it is a necessary quality in our successful leaders)

What should this say to us as parents?

Allow your children to struggle a little! Growth happens when our children are challenged slightly above their abilities and they rise to the occasion.  If we consistently try to “save” them, they avoid the struggle as well as the growth.  In terms of life circumstances such as divorce, not making the team or fighting with a friend, allow your child to work through their feelings as well as solutions.  You can be there to support– just not take over.

Dr. Robyn Signature

Parenting stress

Bad Parenting Day: 10 Tips for Making Tomorrow Better

Yesterday was one of my worst parenting days.  You ever have one of those?

Coming off a night of tossing and turning I just shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.  But with a 3 and a 4 year old, you really don’t have that option.  So groggy with a bit of cotton-head I got up at 6:45 when my daughter called for me.  Both of my kids always love to get up deliciously early.

My daughter got up on the wrong side of the bed.  Everything from her dreams to her outfit were wrong.  She didn’t even want to wear the underwear I had put out for her.  Really?  “It’s freakin’ underwear,” I could hear myself repeating in my head.

My son had just gotten up with my husband and was playing one of his new birthday games, Hungry Hungry Hippos.  As my kids are allowed to open 2 gifts per day in the days following their special day to control the indulgence avalanche, he was ready to open his second gift.

It was a remote control car.  Harmless enough—but a source of great argument when you have two children who are raised in a home where there is no such thing as a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.”  They both wanted to play with it.

Two extremely “Type A” children, one car, one remote. You see where this is going?  If they weren’t arguing with each other about whose turn it was, they Read more

Oklahoma hurricane

Parents; How to Talk to Your Children about The Oklahoma Tornado

“Hi Robyn; We’re fine. It missed us by 2 street blocks.  We’re fine, our houses are fine. So sorry we weren’t able to call or text during the storm.  We love you guys.”

In the recent past, I’ve written articles about how to talk to children about horrifying events such as the SandyHook, Connecticut shooting and The Boston Marathon bombing.  In both articles, while incredibly concerned, I was not touched personally by the tragedies.  I had lived in Boston for many years (I received my PhD from Tufts University near Boston) and made many friends there—but nobody I knew had attended the marathon and all were perfectly safe during the tragedy.

Yesterday, a massive tornado hit Moore, OK.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the name in the news.  Moore?  I have a deep personal tie to Moore.  Both my children were born there.  Both of their adoptions took place in Moore.  And most significantly, the birth family of both my children still live in Moore.  Their birth mother, their birth father and their birth grandmother.

Many of you who are constant, devoted readers of my parenting site know that we have an open adoption plan with my children’s birth family.  This is not just on paper.  We are extremely close with the birth family—so much so that none of us regard each other as “birth family” and “adoptive family” (I only use those names here to avoid confusion)—we just call each other family.

I am so happy to report that our family members in Moore are all safe.  The message on the top of this article was left by our children’s birth grandmother.  We have been in contact over the last 2 days and while our whole family had quite a scare, they got out of the storm unscathed.  The tornado passed 2 miles away from my kids’ birth father’s house and a ¼ mile from his girlfriend’s place of work.  He was holed up in a bank vault for safety while my kids’ birth mother took refuge in a Walmart with a hundred other people.  The kids’ birth grandmother literally drove herself away from the oncoming storm.  The whole thing is beyond scary.

The experience has given me a more nuanced perspective of how to talk to children about frightening events such as this tornado in Oklahoma.  Since my children (especially my 4 year old) know about the storm and how it affected our family, it is from this perspective that I write my tips today.

(1) Ensure your children know that this tornado is not a threat to their safety: “Is the tornado coming here” my daughter wondered?  Sometimes just saying; “no, it’s all done” is enough.  Other times, for the very curious child, this may be a good  for a little weather lesson.  You can say; “Just Read more

Martin Richard; boston marathon

Mom & Dad; Are we safe? Talking to your children about scary things presented in the news

As we now all know, yesterday’s tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon resulted in at least 176 people injured.  Nine of them are children—at least 8 of whom are being treated in hospitals.  One child, 8-year-old Martin Richard, was killed during the Boston Marathon explosion while enjoying ice cream with his family. His 6 year old sister lost her leg and their mother underwent brain surgery due to her critical injuries.

There are many other stories of families affected and many of us have been touched either directly or indirectly by this senseless act.  One of my good friends just reported that her son’s friend may lose his hearing because pellets were sprayed from the bomb and got lodged in his head. He was there to cheer his dad on who was running the marathon. The juxtaposition of happy joyous cheering, eating ice cream and enjoying a special outing with the family with the horror of a senseless bombing is hard to fathom.  It’s even harder to explain.

As we talked about during the Newtown Connecticut shootings and other stories of senseless child murder, these are unimaginable acts that are likely to bring about questions.  Some are easy to answer.  Others feel nearly impossible.  Still, we can’t put our heads in the sand, as we want our children to hear the truth in an age-appropriate way from someone who knows them best—and that likely means you. Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  It is our job to be the source.

So how do you talk to your children about ugly, scary things that are talked about in the media?  What can we do?

(1) Media exposure should be limited:  Information is best coming from a trusted source who is sensitive to the way your child can best receive it—at a time when is best for your child. You can limit details based on age and maturity—and seeing gruesome photos and frightening video is inappropriate for most children. Information on the news is aimed at adults—not at children.

(2) Let them know that responsible adults are working to keep us safe and healthy: When situations seem unsure, children need to know that Read more


Boy Toys, Girl Toys and What Kids Learn When We Allow Them To Choose

As a parent, I often wonder about how the toys and role models in my children’s lives translate to behavior.  I tend to be the kind of mother who encourages a wide range of toys, games and books.  I am less about banning (unless it is truly counter to our family’s core character-based values) and more about providing a continuum of options so that my children gain experience, choice and understanding.

That means that we have everything from princess dress up and dolls to blocks, science kits, dump trucks and dinosaurs.  And both of my children play with whatever they choose to that day.  Yes, my son has put on a tutu while bouncing and laughing in our basement bounce house and my daughter has crashed Batman and Wonder Woman action figures into a tower of blocks, saving the “little people” trapped inside from disaster.  I’ve played race cars with my son while crawling around on the kitchen floor and my husband has played dolls with my daughter while cuddling in the den. To me, it’s all good.

But I sometimes see that a range is not provided or accepted in households around America and elsewhere.  Boys play with “boy things” and girls play with Read more

Pregnancy By Proxy: The Out Of Body Experience of Open Adoption

In honor of our daughter’s 4th birthday, I am republishing some of my adoption articles. This is the third article in the series. Happy Birthday to our sweet baby girl.

Believe me.  This was not what I had envisioned when I thought about pregnancy for myself.  I was more of a traditional gal—thinking that the whole baby- boarding process would actually be taking place in my own body. You know—baby bump, bloated feet, morning sickness–the whole enchilada. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy being an out-of-body experience.

But when we decided on adoption, and ultimately, open adoption, that’s what it became. I can say now that I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But at the start, I thought I might just throw up my lunch.

Look; the 1st trimester is never a sure thing. It’s unpredictable, tenuous, and scary.  I should know; I had lost 4 pregnancies during those 1st 12 weeks.  And yet, here I was willingly and excitedly matched with a birth mother whose baby—no, fetus—was only the size of a pin head and looked more like a baby seahorse than anything human.

What was I doing to myself?  How would I survive the next 35 weeks just watching and hearing updates from the sidelines? The last time I checked, pregnancy was not Read more

The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain things Read more