Boston: A New Reality and Talking to Your Children

save the children boston

We were traveling when we found out about the events that unfolded yesterday in Boston.  Every chance we got, we took a look at the news on our phones and caught glimpses of television sets airing the news in the airport.  Images of 9/11 instantly came to our minds as we registered each loss of life and it was too hard to fathom.  We lived in NYC in 2001, so these memories are still very real and vivid. One of my friends lost a husband, another lost a sister and many skirted death by a matter of minutes (one was late for work, another was late for a job interview).

Several years prior to 9/11, I watched a good friend pass the finish line during the Boston Marathon, and I have joyous memories from that event. Standing by the finish line was exhilarating and I remember his wife running to congratulate him full of glee.

Who would have ever expected for lives to be lost at the finish line?  Who could imagine so many lives would be ruined by fulfilling a life dream?

I can’t even imagine the 8 year-old who ran to the finish line to hug his dad who was completing the race.  Alive one second, gone the next.  And his family members whose lives are in danger, whilst having to cope with the loss of his life. His six year-old sister, who was a dancer, and may have to have her second leg amputated.  Her mother who was critically injured and may not be able to care for her family when this is over.

The reality of this bombing is different for me.  Thirteen years later, I have two children.  One who is eight and could have easily been that child.

My children noticed the look of fear on our faces as we entered security in the airport, after being cruelly reminded that we are living in a tougher world than ever.

Looking for answers on how to explain this to my children, I turned to Save the Children.  They recommend these 10 tips to help parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers:

1. Limit television time. While it can be important for adults to stay informed about the situation, television images and reports may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reports can overwhelm children and even adults. So, limit the number of television reports about the situation you and your children watch.

2. Listen to your children carefully. Try to find out what your child knows and understands about the situation before responding to their questions. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Find out what your child knows about the crisis. Then, talk to your child to help him or her understand the situation and ease their concerns.

3. Give children reassurance. Tell children that adults are doing everything they can to protect and help children who have been affected by the tragedy. Also, let them know that if an emergency happens, your main concern would be their safety.  Make sure they know they are being protected.

4. Be alert for significant changes in behavior. Caregivers should be alert to any significant changes in children’s sleeping patterns, eating habits, and concentration levels. Also watch for wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints. If any of these actions do happen, they will likely lessen within a short time. If they continue, however, you should seek professional help and counseling for the child.

5. Understand children’s unique needs. Not every child will experience a disaster in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional abilities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events; older children and adolescents will get information from various sources, such as friends and the media. Remember that children of any age can be affected by a disaster. Provide them all with love, understanding and support.

6. Give your children extra time and attention. Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Talk, play and, most importantly, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities with children of all ages.

7. Be a model for your children. Your children will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you respond. The amount you tell children about how you’re feeling should depend on the age and maturity of the child. You may be able to disclose more to older or more mature children but remember to do so calmly.

8. Watch your own behavior. Make a point of being sensitive to those impacted by the crisis. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.

9. Help your children return to a normal routine. Children usually benefit from routine activities such as set eating times, bed time, and playing with others.    Parents should make sure their children’s school is also returning to normal patterns and not spending a lot of time discussing the disaster.

10. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. Helping others can give children a sense of control and security and promote helping behavior. During a disaster, children and adolescents can bring about positive change by supporting those in need.

Let me know your tips. How are you coping this week and how much are you telling your children? How interested are your kids in the crisis and how much do you let them see on TV?

These tips are also available online at www.savethechildren.org/cope or to download a PDF in Spanish got to www.savethechildren.org/ayuda.

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  1. This has been devastating. I’m glad my little one is still too little to know what is going on. These are great tips.

  2. Great tips. I’ve learned the hard way living in Israel that I need to be the first person to tell my kids about tragedies, because in Israeli society there are no white gloves when talking tragedy to kids. I told both my school aged boys immediately. What really helps the older, more curious one, is allowing him the opportunity to ask as many questions as he wants/needs. And, of course, being honest when I don’t know the answers. “Why would someone do something like this?”

  3. Suzanna Keith says:

    So sad for the mother of the 8 year old. Thanks for giving us great tools to talk to our children. Praying for Boston
    Suzanna Keith

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