Explaining deadly mosque shootings to kids a balancing act

Parents and teachers are being cautioned from trying to shelter children from Sunday night's deadly shootings at a Quebec mosque, all while not bombarding them with too much information or too many details.

Muslim leaders and educators grapple with how to speak to kids about Quebec mosque killings

Teacher and guidance counsellor Aisha Sherazi recommends being honest to children about mass killings while being careful not to overwhelm them with too much information. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Parents and teachers are being cautioned from trying to shelter children from news of Sunday's night's deadly shootings at a Quebec mosque, all while not bombarding them with too much information.

Several parents approached the Imam of the Mosque of Aylmer, Mohammed Lahlou, ​during a vigil Monday night at his mosque for the six men killed and 19 more injured. Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old university student, has been charged with murder in the case.

"We cannot to hide the actual situation, because they (children) are able to understand what's happened from their school and from the Internet," Lahlou said Monday evening.

However, Lahlou said discussing the tragedy with children also presents an opportunity to enforce a positive message.

"We should face them with the reality in a wise way. And we should tell them that we should work all together to keep the harmony in this country," Lahlou said.

'They were asking many questions'

Mosque of Aylmer member Zied Hamida brought his three young daughters to Monday night's vigil, choosing to be upfront with them for the reason why.
Zied Hamida said he tried to give simple answers to his daughters' questions about the mass killing at a Quebec mosque. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

"I told them why we were going to the mosque, because someone entered into a mosque in a different city and killed people there," Hamida said. "They were asking many questions. I was trying to answer as I simple as I can."

Being honest but keeping it simple is an approach echoed by a teacher and guidance counsellor at the Islamic after-school program at the Ron Kolbus Clubhouse on Dumaurier Avenue.

Aisha Sherazi said her approach with her own children is to be accessible, but to avoid pushing too much information onto them.
Imam Mohammed Lahlou believe discussing tragedy with kids also presents an opportunity to teach them about how to live in harmony. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

"There's no topic that's out of bounds. But I only address it if they bring it up," Sherazi said Tuesday morning on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. 

"I don't like to put ideas in my children's heads. I like them to be free thinkers. And so far, they haven't said anything."

Sherazi said the transition from protecting your kids from world news, to letting them discover the good and evil in the world, can happen naturally.

"As kids get older they develop a social network of their own, and then kids tend to discuss things," Sherazi said. "I think the important thing is to build that base of openness and warmth and kindness. Once they have that as their base, then the hope is that they will go on to be positive forces in the world."