We live in a time where the fear and emotional uncertainty of terrorism is, unfortunately, very real. With 24-hour television news cycles and a multitude of social media outlets at our fingertips, we are constantly being exposed to reports of terrorism around the globe and in our country in ways that can make even the idea of a terrorist attack feel all too close to home. Our children, especially, can be exposed to high levels of anger, grief, and anxiety that they may not understand or have the ability to cope with.

How children perceive terrorist threats  

For your child, the image of terrorism can be both personal and concrete, and therefore, young children especially may show signs of worry. Since children tend to operate from the realm of their own experience and egocentricity, scenes they see on television or social media can be very real and frightening; they may feel particularly threatened and believe that the acts of terrorism they see on TV or hear adults talking about could happen to them. Their vulnerability can, in fact, put them in a state of high anxiety and stress.

In my experience as a researcher and educator, with a Ph.D. in Psychology, I have found that young children may express fears of separation and attachment as anxiety mounts. Older children may become more aggressive and express anger as a way to control their feelings of fear and helplessness.

So how can parents cope with their own anxieties while reassuring their children?

1. Restore routine

If an act of terrorism has occurred, do your best as the parent to restore a sense of normalcy as soon as possible. The confusion and fear your child may feel can be very destabilizing, and sticking to a regular daily routine can help your child find some stability.

2. Communicate in concrete terms

It can be helpful for your child to hear you describe your own feelings in a very literal way so that he/she can, in a sense, get his/her arms around these confusing emotions. Sentences such as “I was so frightened that I felt like my stomach dropped, the way you feel in an elevator,” help describe feelings literally, and gives your child an example to which he/she can relate.

3. Practice the empathic process

Encourage your child to share his/her feelings freely, and remember to listen with empathy and without judgment. Through this listening and exchange of feelings, children and parents reconnect.

4. Pay close attention

It is very important for parents at this time to know their child’s history of emotional stress and to reach out, with both actions and words, to make your child feel reconnected. Furthermore, if your child has experienced trauma such as divorce in his/her history, he/she may become especially anxious at this time and need extra reassurance both verbally and physically. Never discount your child’s feelings, and be very generous with your hugs.

5. Offer reassurance of protection

Because children feel vulnerable, they want to know that parents and other important adults such as babysitters, teachers, and mentors can and will protect them. Children will take their cue from their parents. If you stay calm and confident, you will inspire comfort and security in your child. You can even offer reassurance simply by putting a night light in your child’s room to help him/her feel safer at night. Remember that your child looks to you, the parent, for protection, and you must not burden your child with your own anxieties. If necessary, you should reach out for professional help to guide and support yourself, your partner, as well as your child.

6. Give age-appropriate information

While it is important to be honest about terrorist events, it is equally important to do so in context while communicating with your child in age-appropriate terms. By listening and talking, you can dispel rumors and share what children are hearing in school as well as in the media.

7. Monitor media exposure

Parents must parent, and this requires you to monitor younger children in relation to their media exposure. Know what your child is watching on television at all times, and carefully monitor all internet access.

8. Partner with your child to create a plan for emergencies

If your child feels involved, he/she will feel empowered. After you work together to create a plan (i.e. what happens if something bad happens while you are at work and your child is home with the babysitter), practice and rehearse it with your child through modeling and role-playing.

Finally, parents must take their own authority, meaning you know your child – and his/her needs – the best. In times of confusion and potential high anxiety involving terrorism, be there for your child as much as possible: focus your attention on your child, be empathetic, loving, and reliable. Don’t worry about spoiling your children in helping them deal with their fears regarding terrorism; you cannot spoil children with love.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.