I sat on my big, cream colored chair, the news on, looping through the horror happening in Paris. My girls walk in, Katie with her nose in a book, Sarah running to ask if she can play on the computer, Megan with a warmly wrapped baby doll lovingly in her arms. The image of the pregnant woman dangling from a widow in an attempt to escape the gunfire of terrorists flashed across my mind. I hoped she was OK and that, one day, she would be cradling her child in her arms.

How I Explained Terrorism to My Daughters

I debated changing the channel on the TV to shield them from the reality of the brutality in this world and decided against it. In their world, people are kind and generous. I want them to believe that. To know that regardless of anything else, people have hearts and are inherently kind.

But as I watch video and photos of blood on the streets, hear commentary about college students slain while drinking wine on a balmy night and the analysts talking about how hard this event was to prevent, I realize that I am doing my children no favors by shielding them from the wars of the world.

Katie is the first that I notice watching the footage. Drawn from her book of a 4th grader dealing with the innocence of life, she asks what happened in Paris.

I thought for a moment on the best way to sugar coat it. Like I did with the divorce. Like I did when a little girls was mean to her on the bus. Like I did when she failed a math test.

And then I told her the truth. Completely.

Terrorists… people who do not like the way we live or what we believe in, cowardly murdered at least 129 people and wounded 350 more while they were living their daily lives.

She thought for a moment and then said, ‘Well, did it work? Do we believe like they do now?’

No. No, honey, it did not.

We do not.

‘Well, that’s pretty mean to just, like, kill people for no reason. I mean, they have moms and dads and stuff.’

Yes. Yes, honey, they do.

‘What about the people who shot people? They are going to be in so much trouble! Where are their moms and dads?’

It is that simple to her.

She asked what ‘terrorism’ was and I explained it as best I could. In plain English with no decorative language to make it seem less severe than it is. We talked a little about 9/11 and she asked if it would happen here again.


I told her that I would show her the book of photos from 9/11 that I have when she was a little older. That some of the pictures were of parts of people and that I did not think she should see them. She agreed.

How I Explained Terrorism to My Daughters

I asked her a few times during the conversation if she was scared. She said no and as we sat, together taking it all in, she asked few questions. She made comments, though, about how she would run and hide if she saw a gunman, how she would make sure her sisters were OK and how she wants to send presents over to the kids who live there ‘so they can smile mommy.’ But mostly, we just sat.

Eventually she put her head back in her book and got lost in the babysitting club that ruled the school.

Megan and Sarah didn’t seem to care as much about what was on the TV. I asked them both if they were scared and if they had any questions and they both said no. Sarah was too busy trying to beat her all time high on her math game and Megan was adding to the collection of babies on the floor of the living room.

They were just living their childhood.

When it was time for us to get ready for a birthday party I turned the TV off and wondered if I made the right decision in exposing my kids to the carnage. It is a hard thing as a mom. Knowing when the reality of the world is too scary for the fragility of youth.

I decided that, for me, it was the right decision. Now my kids could hear it from me. Plain and simple, without the twist of how other’s might explain it to them. They could hear it with no hatred, no bias and no flowery language meant to make it seem less severe than it really is. And they know now that they can talk to me about it, they can express any fears and they can ask any questions.

How I explained Terrorism to my daughters may not be how you choose to do it. But I took the straight forward, honest approach that told them no lies. Because the reality is that this is their reality and this war against people who think killing is the answer will pepper their existence, and probably their children’s existence as well. Presenting it as plainly as I can, letting them know that it is OK to be scared and to ask why, and telling them I will always have the honest answer as I know it, is the best way I see it to prepare them.

I pray that my explanations will be far and very few between…