French Parents Try To Explain The Inexplicable To Their Kids

Nov 17, 2015
Originally published on November 20, 2015 1:02 pm

Parents waited outside a primary school in Paris' 15th arrondissement, not so far from some of the places attacked last Friday night. With constant news coverage of the killings and schools joining the minute of silence Monday, there's no way to hide what has happened.

Laure Zang-Atangana came to the school, instead of the nanny, to pick up her 9-year-old daughter Anais.

"It was very hard Friday because she saw it on TV," Zang-Atangana said. "Her father and I try to reassure her. We explain that she's safe with us. But a very bad thing happened to this country."

Marlene Attal says it's very difficult to find the right words, especially with her youngest, who is 8.

"We try not to watch the TV in front of them. If anything, it's the radio that's on and we explain, we just explain to them with the words that the school sent us on how we should approach them," she said. "They basically say you have to explain to them that ... not all humanity is that bad, it's only a small group of people that mean harm."

The French education minister urged teachers to remain strong in front of students. A leaflet put out by a children's book publisher has been endorsed by the French government. It gives advice on how to talk to kids about the violence. It includes cartoons such as a crying Eiffel Tower holding hands with children.

Djemaa Benamor, a sixth-grade art teacher in the south of France, said the entire country has been dramatically affected.

"Many students are confusing this with religion and it's important to establish that this has nothing to do with that," Benamor said. "These are fanatics. There is no religious text that says go kill innocent people at a café."

But Benamor says she can't deny the danger is there. So she's starting an art project around Picasso's painting Guernica, which deals with the Nazi bombing of a Spanish town, and his Dove of Peace, to help the children express their feelings.

France has been touched by a TV interview of a 3-year-old boy with his father at the huge display of flowers and candles outside the concert hall that was attacked Friday.

The attackers, the boy says, were "really, really mean. Bad guys are not very nice."

Pausing, the boy says, "We have to be really careful because we have to change houses."

"No, don't worry. We don't need to move out," says the father. "France is our home."

"The flowers and the candles are here to protect us?" the boys asks.

"Yes," says the father.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Parents and teachers in France have been trying to figure out how to explain Friday's attacks to children. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley went to a school to see how the country's smallest citizens are dealing with it.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Parents wait outside a primary school in Paris' 15th arrondissement not so far from some of the places attacked Friday night. With constant news coverage of the killings and schools joining the minute of silence Monday, there's no way to hide what's happened. Laure Zang-Atangana came to pick up her 9-year-old daughter, Anais, from school today instead of the nanny.

LAURE ZANG-ATANGANA: (Through interpreter) It was very hard Friday because she saw it on TV. Her father and I tried to reassure her. We explained that she's safe with us, but a very bad thing happened to this country.

BEARDSLEY: Marlene Attal says it's very difficult to find the right words, especially with her youngest, who's 8.

MARLENE ATTAL: We try not to watch the TV in front of them or if anything it's the radio that is on. And we explained them - we just explained them with the words that the school sent us of how we should approach them and what was used for 9/11. They basically say that you have to explain them that humanity - not all humanity is that bad, that it's only a small group of people that mean harm.

BEARDSLEY: The French education minister urged teachers to remain strong in front of students. A leaflet put out by a children's book publisher has been endorsed by the French government. It gives advice on how to talk to kids about the violence and includes cartoons such as a crying Eiffel Tower holding hands with children. Djemaa Benamor is a sixth grade art teacher in the south of France.

DJEMAA BENAMOR: (Through interpreter) Many students are confusing this with religion and it's important to establish that this has nothing to do with that. These are fanatics. There is no religious text that says go kill innocent people at a cafe.

BEARDSLEY: But Benamor says she can't deny that the danger is there. So she's starting an art project around Picasso's painting "Guernica," which deals with the Nazi bombing of a Spanish town, and his "Dove Of Peace" to help the children express their feelings. France has been touched by a TV interview of a 3-year-old boy with his father at the huge display of flowers and candles outside the concert hall that was attacked Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "The attackers were really, really mean and not nice," says the tot. Pausing, he asks, Papa, will we have to move houses because the men have guns and can shoot us? No, we don't have to move, says the father. France is our home, and the flowers and the candles are stronger than the guns. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.