Alexander Chancellor

How do you explain events that even adults can’t understand to a child?

Maybe ‘we’ve got flowers’ is as good a response as any to the Paris atrocities

Seeing my ten-year-old daughter, Freya, a week after the massacre in Paris, I asked her if she had heard anything about the events there. She said, in a matter-of-fact kind of way, that she had heard something, but didn’t say what it was or from whom she had heard it. All she would say was that it hadn’t been mentioned by her teachers at school. And then she changed the subject. I didn’t feel like saying any more on the matter. Either she didn’t know anything much or she didn’t want to talk about it. And what would have been the point of discussing something so horrible with her? We turned on the television and watched an old Bing Crosby movie instead.

But one of the hot topics of recent days has been what to tell children about this Isis atrocity. It’s a question that has obviously worried Parisians more than anyone else, for most children in Paris can hardly have been unaware that something pretty dreadful had been going on. And I gather from the Times that the general feeling there is that children should not be shielded from the reality. ‘French newspapers and magazines have made particular efforts to explain last week’s terrorist attacks to children, refusing to sugarcoat the barbarity,’ it reported.

Nevertheless, the reaction that made the greatest public impression was shown in a video on French television that was subsequently shared by hundreds and thousands of people online. In this video a six-year-old boy was shown telling his father, a naturalised French Vietnamese, that he was worried because the terrorists ‘have got pistols and they can shoot us because they are very, very bad’. ‘They’ve got pistols,’ the father replied, pointing at the commemorative bouquets in the Place de la République, ‘but we’ve got flowers.’

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in