I’ve listened intently to the horrible news and watched in sorrow as the footage of what happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon continues to play. Many of us thought of and reached out to people we care about who could have been caught in harm’s way. Our hearts are with those who are personally dealing with this tragedy. In these times of grief as a nation, our anger and sense of powerlessness to control the situation sometimes causes us to watch extended coverage of the details surrounding the event. Perhaps this is in an effort to find some sense of understanding the chaos.
As an advocate for young children, I ask that you keep in mind that young children deserve a childhood free of anger, hate, and fear. Exposing them to the heinous acts of adults in their world robs them of a feeling of security and could cause them to have frightening dreams or worries that they cannot control. If children are allowed to watch something replayed on television, they might assume that the event is happening over and over again. This could cause their anxiety to build even more.
Let me offer some tips to help you deal with this tragedy with your children:
1. Listen to your child first. Find out what he knows before you launch into an explanation. A critical skill of being an effective parent is listening.
2. Never lie to your children. If your children are old enough to have heard what happened or if they have been personally touched by this tragedy, always tell them the truth on their level. It is important you begin early establishing their trust in you. You can say, “Yes, there was a big blast and people were killed and hurt, but that is over.” Bad things happen in our world, and you cannot make everything seem okay. However, do not give your children details that they cannot process. Remember that what children are really asking is how the news affects them.
3. Let your child voice his concerns. Don’t dismiss them. No matter how disconnected his fear may seem from the actual event, allow him to express it. Don’t ever tell him that he is wrong for feeling a certain fear. Just listen, let him know that you heard him, and then offer reassurance.
4. Guard the input -- this means television, radio, newspapers, the internet, and other adults. Do not allow children to be exposed to the details of a tragedy. It is our job to deal with the adult problems in this world and allow our children to enjoy their childhood.
5. Use these times to teach your child about caring for others, serving others, and empathy. Perhaps there are ways to reach out and show appreciation to your local firefighters and police officers, use art skills to make cards, plant flowers that honor the victims, and/or make donations to agencies that help others. There are so many ways to turn times of trouble into teachable moments. Teach your child early that pain can be turned into triumph.
While we are all heartsick at what has happened, we must keep our focus on what is right in our world and continue to keep our eyes on the positive so that our children feel safe. Stand guard over every child in your world. As adults, let’s turn our pain into triumph by uniting our efforts to make our world a better, safer, and more loving place for all of us.