by By Mary Lou Kelleher, RN, MS
Children experience death and frightening experiences, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, differently than adults. Young children have a limited understanding of death or what happened to the injured people. Some children may cry. Some may seem callous. You may be surprised to find that you're more upset than your child.
You know your child best. It's up to you to judge how much or how little your child needs to be told about traumatic or horrifying news, or if your child needs to know at all.
Find out what facts your child knows or has heard, or what images he or she has seen. Start simply. You may want to say something like, “Have you and your friends been talking about what happened at the Boston Marathon?” or “Do you have any questions about it?”
Let your kids talk and tell you what they know, then clarify the facts and add supportive information. Reassure them that an arrest has been made and that your children are safe.
Children will ask questions and will tell you if they want more information. It's OK to say, "I don't know" when you don’t have the answers.
Some children may ask, “What if I had been there?” Be reassuring, stressing that they are safe. Tell them how much you love them and how glad you are that they are safe and well. Let them know what they can do to help the victims – maybe donate to a fund, say a prayer or draw a picture to send to the hospital. Children like to know that they can do something to make people feel better – it gives them some control of the situation.
Children, who witness these types of tragic events, even on the news, sometimes think that the emergency workers harmed the people. If this is what your child is thinking, then you need to explain that these are the people who help us when bad things happen.
Explaining who did this is hard, of course. Stick with the idea that there are some people in the world who are so angry all the time that they do bad things that can hurt people. Keep these discussions short and maybe revisit the topic again the next day, but always reinforce that your child is safe, and that you will always keep them safe.
It's OK to cry in front of children if you become sad when you are talking about this tragedy with them. It helps children know that it's OK for children and adults to cry, but we can deal with our feelings and smile again later on. Remember, it is important to always help children know that feelings are natural and normal, and that happy times and sad times are part of everyone's life.