Trying to Make Sense of the Terror in Paris with My 7 Year Old

I spend a lot of time in the car.

I live in LA and everything is at least half an hour away — The girls’ school, their activities, meetings, training, friends… But I don’t mind.

You see, I’ve come to treasure those privileged moments with my girls.

Car rides seem to bring out some of our most interesting conversations.

This past week, not surprisingly, most of these have centered around the terrifying events that unfolded in Paris last week.


Photo Credit: By Passion Leica from Paris, France (Charlie Hebdo) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was no exception.

I was driving Sabrina to school. It was just the two of us and my usually bubbly 7 year old was lost in deep thought.

Then the questions and reflections started pouring out

“Maman are all Muslims bad?”
“Why did they kill so many people?”
“There is a boy in my class who is Muslim and he is really nice!”
“Do you know any Muslims?”

Yes I do know many Muslims and they are kind, loving, gentle people.

“No, I mean the mean ones!”

My girls attend a French International school and our community was deeply shaken by the events of last week. More than a third of our families, mine included have a least one parent who is French. Sabrina’s teacher is from Paris and has openly shared her sadness and concern with her second grade class.

Paris is my home town also, the city that holds my heart, and though my parents are no longer there, I have countless friends and family members who enjoy life in this beautiful city.

I watched in horror as news of the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo came pouring in and reports that this was not a random act but a carefully planned attack flooded the internet and airwaves. As reporters commented on their tactics and gear, one question was on everyone’s mind — Was this an isolated event or was it part of a much larger plan?

Wednesday night my 17 year old attended a support rally hosted by friends who own a local French restaurant. Friends and strangers gathered together in defense of our freedom of speech and in support of the victims of this heinous act.

Thousands of Facebook profile pictures were replaced with the slogan “Je Suis Charlie”  “I Am Charlie”, while the hashtags  #JeSuisCharlie and #IAmCharlie popped up all over the internet quickly followed by “I Am Not Charlie” posted by those who defend freedom of speech and expression but in no way condone the work of Charlie Hebdo.

Thursday morning as I dropped the two older girls off at school they were ushered into an impromptu assembly. Members of our administration addressed safety concerns and tried to make sense of the senseless violence we were witnessing from afar.

My inbox was flooded with emails from our French consulate, the school, friends….

News of the hostage taking reached us, leading to even more questions and unease. When will this end? How far will it spread?

Five hostages were killed.

I remember bomb threats as a child, avoiding certain lines of the metro, and hearing of various hostage takings. But I can’t remember any other time when hostages lost their lives before the situation was diffused or the terrorist apprehended. Clearly we are in different times, more violent, ruthless times.

As the chaos continued and riots erupted in the streets of Paris, friends checked in on Facebook, Twitter and email.

‘It’s a nightmare here, but we’re OK”

When the girls came home from school we watched in complete disbelief the violence that continued and could not help but shake our heads and ask ‘Why? Why?”

Sabrina snuggled close and squeezed me tight as she watched with tears is her eyes. “Why maman?”

How do you explain any of this to a seven year old?

I don’t have the answer to that question and don’t believe I ever will.

But what I do know is that I am doing what I can to raise my girls to be wordly, compassionate and tolerant individuals.

To be curious and respectful.

To be educated and interested in what happens in the world around them.

I would rather not have to discuss the events of last week with my 7 year old but I choose not to shelter her. This is part of our reality, her reality, and she needs to feel comfortable asking questions and expressing concern and sadness. To learn where boundaries have been crossed and how to respond.  To be equipped to make the right decisions when her time comes to do so.

One of the things I absolutely treasure about our school community is its rich cultural and socio economic diversity. My girls are growing up with people from all around the world and all walks of life. .. These are their friends, their teachers, people they love and respect.  They have friends from Syria and Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, and friends from all over Europe and Latin America. And yes friends from all across the United States as well.  Friends whom they cherish deeply.  Friends they can’t imagine ever being without.

They don’t look at the color of their skin or their parents’ portfolio… They talk openly about faith and ideology.

They play, fight and make up again…

And through it all they learn that people are people, worthy of respect whether we agree with everything they stand for or not.


Photo Credit: Julian Corbett, Mobile uploads


Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I witnessed the millions of people join the March for Unity that took place on Sunday in Paris, Los Angeles, and cities all across the world.  And I am filled with hope that her generation will stand up against violence and disrespect of any kind.

About Valerie 

Valerie Remy-Milora is the mother of 3 amazing girls, an author, public speaker, coach and founder of Scrumptious Moms. She is passionate about empowering moms to embrace self care and live a vibrant, joyful life with their loved ones. A health and fitness nut, she is an advocate for chemical-free living, real food and GMO labeling. She believes in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

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  1. My son has been asking about this attack a lot. I think being open and honest is a great way to raise children who are against violence. Hopefully their generation will be able to put an end to incidents like this.

  2. There really is no way to make sense out of this. It seems as though every conflict in the world now is being fought by killing the innocent.

  3. I remember as a youngster one of my world concerns was nuclear war where we would all be wiped out. It was a concerning time for me as I imagine todays events are for your girls. Talking about is the right thing I guess so kudos to you for preparing them for the world that lays out there. It is still a great world but there are bad spots that should be recognized.

    • I remember that being the greatest concern Tim. And yes, it IS a great world and the human spirit is strong and beautiful. Though it’s easy to focus on the mayhem when it kicks us in the gut, we can never overlook the overwhelming beauty that is all around, the precious souls that grace our days. I’m sure you are seeing amazing things and meeting wonderful people as you travel around the world and have much beauty to focus on 🙂

  4. There are many events and circumstances that are hard to explain to our children. We try to answer the best we can.

  5. I really like how you chose to talk about it with her and help her to process it. It’s just so hard to understand…well, you can’t really. 🙁

    • It is impossible to understand how people can be filled with so much hate and disregard for human life Liz, yet it is a reality we confront daily in some fashion or another. The challenge is in finding ways to explain it to my little one that would answer her questions even if she doesn’t fully grasp the breadth of the problem… And to remind her that people are generally good even if there are a few bad apples and that no matter what we must always respect one another.

  6. It is hard to know what to tell kids about things like this. Hopefully they will learn lessons of tolerance and love, despite the bad things that happen.

    • Amen Anne! I do believe they will. I see so much empathy in our children’s generation. I don’t know if it is because technology has made all the madness in the world so much more visible and our kids have had it with the extreme and senseless violence they are witnessing somewhere in the world almost daily, but our youth seem particularly sensitive and fed up and determined to change things. Let’s pray they do.

  7. Crap. I really need to watch the news more often. I had no idea any of this was going on. How awful.

  8. I hate that we have to discuss such things with our children. it sounds like you are part of a wonderful community and I am so sorry this hit so close to home for you.

    • Thanks for those sweet thoughts Ellen. Yes it hit close to home but I am blessed with some pretty fantastic people in my life and so grateful for each and everyone of them. And it never ceases to amaze me how strongly people come together in the wake of such devastating violence. I only wish we did not need those events to remind us how amazing people actually are in general.

  9. Valerie, Nice to connect with you again. I know how you feel – tough to have to discuss such things with children but it is, of course, the right thing to do. I always had conversations with mine when they were growing up about the good and the bad in the world. At times like this, it seems like there’s so much that’s bad that we almost forget to be thankful for all the beauty and kindness that is there too.

  10. Valerie, talking to your girls is the right thing to do even when we as adults can’t understand the horror of it all. In a way I envy your girls if they grow up with this sentiment: And through it all they learn that people are people, worthy of respect whether we agree with everything they stand for or not. We often are quick to judge and in this instance condemn all Muslims, when the people perpetrating this are not muslims as much as they are criminals – something we need to differentiate.

  11. I hate that more and more conversations are coming up like this with our children. I think you did a great job at talking through it with her.

  12. Such a different world for small people to grow up in than mine last century, Valerie. My husband and I were blessed to grow up after the Great Depression and WWII, in a time of innocence and great goodwill towards others. We never knew how blessed we were. Thank you for your individual slant on this heartbreaking event. A collective shudder has echoed around the world, and a strengthening of the will of the people to be free… so those terrible deaths were not totally in vain.

  13. I think allowing her to talk about her feelings and ask questions is the only way to help her make sense of senseless acts. I agree, I don’t think we will ever know WHY, but talking about it will lead to more acceptance and less (hopefully) violence.

  14. This conundrum with a capital C… I am having a problem trying to wrap my head around all of this, much less explain it to a child. This violence is so unexplained…so painful. I hope your children’s generation can help mend this.

    • It is senseless and tragic Jacqueline and I pray the movement we are seeing, as people look past differences to take a stand against violence, is one that continues to grow and FAST! Yet in the midst of all this nonsense I am grateful that I will never understand the depth of hatred that must lead to such actions.

  15. I am not sure how I would have handled that situation, but it sounds like you’ve done a good job of it. It is scary that we have to cover topics like these with our kids as young as they are.

  16. I also tweeted this as I feel it was a very powerful post that gets to be shared. I hate when we have to explain other’s actions to our children and we see that no matter what even if it is not in our country it still effects us. Praying for Paris.

  17. It’s so heartbreaking when our children become aware of the harsh realities of the world. I don’t try to shield my children from it. Yet, I try extra hard at times like these to make sure they are aware of all of the good the world has to offer.

  18. It’s so sad that children don’t get the chance to retain the innocence that we were allowed to when we were younger. Our daughter was 5 and had just started Kindergarten when 9/11 happened (which also happens to be my Mom’s birthday). It was not an easy task to have to open her up to the fear and distrust that comes with events like these. My heart goes out the to the innocents of every race and culture when events like this happen. Parenting is a tough job isn’t it?

    • Ah yes parenting is a tough job indeed Tammy! Yet so rewarding I would not give it up for anything in the world. I work hard at protecting my girls’ innocence but it is becoming harder and harder. Not only because of the crazy things happening around us but because we have such immediate and widespread access to information. Not much thought is given by the various media outlets to protecting our children. I routinely see ads for inappropriate content on family channels. And when something like this happens it’s hard to avoid exposing our children to it. Our best tools I think in helping our children make sense of tragedies and other shocking news is to engage in loving and open conversations and to remind them in every way we can that we are there to protect them.

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