Helping the surviving victims of the bombing in Manchester cope with the mental scars of the devastating attack will be doubly difficult as many are children, reports Stuart Arnold

WHILE we in the UK and abroad have grown used to terrorist attacks in recent years, there was something more shocking about the bombing at the MEN arena – the fact that so many of those deliberately targeted were young, innocent children.

American singer Ariana Grande had been playing to a sell-out audience, including a large number of teenage girls who make up most of her fan base, when a suicide bomber triggered a device in the lobby as people were leaving causing carnage.

Fellow musicians expressed their condolences and support to those killed in the blast and their families with singer Olly Murs saying on Twitter no-one should go to a concert and never come home, a sentiment shared by all. For those that do – the injured and those who fled for their lives it will be a long road to recovery from here.

Clinical psychologist Dr Adrian Skinner, who is based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, says children in particular will always have extra difficulties dealing with such traumatic experiences.

“They will be very upset, may have bad dreams and will no doubt ask questions about why someone would do something like this,” he says. “Children suffer in the same way as adults, but particularly with terrorist stuff, adults at least will have some kind of grasp of the motive. Children, however, will find them much more difficult to work out.

“It is up to the adult to explain a terrorist activity in terms that our children can understand, but of course it is a difficult thing explain. There is no sensible answer to the question of why would a fella blow himself to smithereens in a pop concert.”

Dr Skinner says the primary source of help in the first four to six weeks following a traumatic incident will be a child’s family and friends.

“They will know more about their child and how they react than any professional,” he says.

“However there is always the danger that problems may arise later. The child may experience intrusive thoughts or avoidance behaviour. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may come into play, either fully or in part.”

Dr Skinner lists the most common trauma experiences individuals may experience in their lives, these include motor vehicle accidents and physical and sexual abuse. PTSD can also be experienced by those serving in the military.

“Incidents [like the Manchester bombing] are very rare,” he says. “The problem is people can over-estimate the danger since it has been brought home so forcefully to them. They then begin to perceive ordinary, everyday things as being very dangerous.

“Even those who have vicarious experience of trauma, so they weren’t there but they saw it or heard about it, can become extra avoidant. Young children might say ‘I don’t want to go out in case the same thing happens to me.’”

Last year children’s charity ChildlLine said it had experienced a rise in children calling its free helpline in the wake of a number of high profile terrorist attacks, some as young as nine.

One 12-year-old girl told a ChildLine counsellor: “I don’t feel safe anymore and am having nightmares. These worries are in my mind all the time and I can’t get them out.”

The NSPCC, meanwhile, says whether children are directly affected or not by an incident, their parents should always listen carefully to any fears or worries they might express. At the same time they should avoid complicated and worrying explanations that could leave them more frightened and confused.

“The important thing throughout any conversation is to make your child feel comfortable in talking to you, that you reassure them that they are loved and safe, and that you don’t panic them with your worries,” a spokeswoman for the NSPCC says.

“Terrorism is a frightening reality, but by remembering to ask them questions, listening to their answers, being honest, and reassuring and comforting them, you can help them to feel safer and calm their worries.”

Any child who wants to talk about terrorism can call ChildLine on 0800 1111. Any adult worried about a child in the wake of the Manchester attack can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.