April 16, 2013 11:54 am
Updated: January 27, 2014 12:28 pm

How to talk to your kids about the Boston Marathon bombings

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TORONTO — Parents around the world may be grappling with their kids’ questions and worry in the wake of tragic news of deadly bombings during the Boston Marathon race Monday.

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News flooded the Internet, television, radio and social media as information trickled in about the bombings that have so far killed three people and injured more than 140 more. This gruesome information is playing out on repeat and is likely seeping into families’ homes.

Following grisly events, such as the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Colorado theatre shooting, parents’ hands may be full in trying to explain these tragic events to their children.

“Whenever there’s a trauma like this, you only give as much information as (kids) need to know,” Dr. Oren Amitay, a registered psychologist told Global News.

“For a young child, they can’t process what’s happened like an adult so to them that kind of confrontation sounds like the entire world is a scary, unpredictable, dangerous place and they can be a victim at any point. You do not want to convey that to your child,” he said.

Global News spoke with experts and compiled research on how to talk to children about the Boston Marathon bombings.

Monitor your family’s media intake

Try to have some control over how much news your household is consuming. Consider a child’s surroundings: his or her parents may be scrambling to call loved ones as television reports pour in with gruesome images on loop. Control what your kids are seeing and filter out any disturbing or frightening images.

This is especially the case if you have young children, Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist, author and parenting expert explained. “Turn off the radio and television – read all your information online,” she said. “Even a toddler or baby who you think isn’t watching anything is seeing terrible facial expressions, dark smoke and they may be internalizing some of it,” she said.

Only provide as much information as they need

This varies depending on the age of your child, his or her maturity level and how anxious they are. The tragedy of the bombings needs to be explained in a way they understand and offers basic information, depending on what they ask.

“For young kids, their world view is based on their mom and dad, their house and their pre-school – they don’t need to know about public bombings,” said Schafer.

If you have kids a few years older who are aware of the situation, answer their questions but without too much elaboration. “If they ask if anyone has died, tell them only as much as they need to know,” Amitay said. “I’ve heard parents say that kids need to know all of this and you’re street proofing them. No, you’re traumatizing the kids,” Amitay said.

Provide reassurance to your kids

They may be hesitant to go to a track meet with their school or a group gathering on the weekend following news such as this. Your kids are looking to you for reassurance that their community is safe, that they won’t be harmed in public and that there are protections in place, Schafer said. “That is really our job as parents – bad things happen but we are safe.” They’re wondering if they’ll be safe, if their parents, the people who take care of them, will be safe and how these events will affect their daily lives. Reassure them that they’re in safe hands.

Read more advice according to age: How to talk with children about Boston Marathon Bombs

Emphasize the rarity of the incident

Reinforce the rarity of what happened. An 8-year-old child was among those who died in the bombings, and this news can hit children hard, Amitay said. “When death happens to a child that young that they can relate it, that’s when it can mess them up,” he explained. “That’s why you have to be very clear and say, yes, this is a tragedy and sometimes bad things happen to good people, but you have to keep repeating that it’s rare, and it almost never happens.” Ask your kids if they know anyone who has encountered this before. Emphasize the safety systems our society has in place. “They need this reassurance,” Amitay said.

Read more: Neighbours remember 8-year-old Boston Marathon bombing victim

Ask your kids what they know and discuss current events regularly

For older children, you can ask them calmly if they’ve heard about something bad that happened in the United States and see how they react. You want to ask them what they’ve heard, what people are talking about at school and let them know that you can answer any questions they have. Help to clarify anything they’re unsure of or don’t understand. Don’t push the subject onto them, though, Schafer said.

Help them through the healing process

In order for us to overcome trauma, people tend to come together to show solidarity and make meaning of what’s happened. If holding a vigil, writing a letter or a card and even saying a prayer at dinner helps your kids cope, it may ease them through the healing. “That is the processing part,” Schafer said. “See what really stirs your child,” she suggested.

Return to established routines

When random acts of violence take place, people feel a sense of loss of control. Parents should try to regain that routine and offer kids a return to a safe, secure and calm environment, Schafer said. “The more you can do things routinely, you are trying to show them life moves on. Life is safe, life is predictable,” she said. Show them that their daily lives are the same and hasn’t turned to chaos.


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