As the horrors of the Boston Marathon bombings unfolded yesterday afternoon, my son was blissfully unaware. He was totally focused on a school trip that he left for this morning, and I just avoided bringing it up at all last night as we packed. He's off in the woods for three days, safe from another scary story. But he's one of the lucky few. Many more kids have heard frightening snippets of what happened, of legs being blown off of bodies. How do we talk with our kids about what happened in Boston?
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has some suggestions for talking with your kids about terrorism -- which can apply here as well. (UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: These acts are now being treated as acts of terrorism.)
1. Listen first: Find the right time and place, and find out how much they already know. Let them express how it makes them feel. Sometimes kids find it easier to express themselves creatively, like through drawings or through puppets. Let them know you hear them and feel that their emotions are important. On the other hand, it's totally okay if they don't want to talk about it. Don't force it.
2. Answer any questions they have as simply as you can, in language they understand. Here's a blog post on talking to your school-aged children that breaks that down into specifics for different age groups. And PBS has a video (below) for talking with younger children. You don't have to tell them more about what happened than they actually want to know. Kids will often ask for what they're ready to hear, and then stop when they've taken in all they can. Watch your kids closely for those cues.
3. Provide support. Stick to your usual routine as kids will find comfort in that stability. Most experts recommend limiting exposure to media during times of crisis. That includes the news, but also any violent television shows or music. Turn off the news radio (even NPR). And then, watch for signs of stress.
4. One of the writers here admits she had a very emotional reaction in front of her kids when she first heard the news. What do you do if you let your kids see you get upset? I think this is something we all do sometimes -- freak out in front of our kids. That can be scary for them, but it helps if we admit to our kids that grownups get scared and upset, too. And then I think they need to see us manage those feelings -- do that modeling for them so they can learn good coping strategies.
5. Share stories of heroes. In the video below, we're reminded of that amazing quote by Mr. Rogers, about how his mother always reminded him to "look for the helpers." Helpers aren't magic, but they can do amazing things. It's comforting for kids to know that even though there are a few people who do bad things, there are many, many more who do good, especially in times of crisis. I think sharing these stories helps US feel better, too! Here's some of our favorite Boston Marathon hero stories.
Have your kids heard about what happened? How are they responding?
Image via soniasu_/Flickr