I watched Monday’s events unfold on a small television perched in one corner of a medical clinic that I work in. And I was speechless. The carnage and devastation at the Boston Marathon bombing were unfathomable. As initial, erroneous reports of zero injuries were replaced by two deaths and many casualties, my silence was taken over by deep sighs. Not knowing exactly what happened, I flashed back to that eleventh day of September when I watched the same fear and panic. For days, I listened with the nation to heart-wrenching phone messages and cried with the tear-stained faces of the families of the missing.
My mistake during that time of national pain was allowing my four daughters to watch the coverage with me. Yes, I was there to listen to their fears and answer their questions. But honestly, even with the guidance of their psychiatrist mom, I think that it was too much for them to process.
Just as I did back then, I know many parents right now are trying to help their children deal with what happened. Here are a few of my tips for talking to your kids about the tragedy.
1. Limit screen time. And that doesn’t just mean television. Be aware of all electronics (like smartphones or the family computer) that could display distressing images like a graphic Twitter picture or uncensored video. It may be hard to do this with older kids, so sit down with them and ask them to show you something they’ve seen that you can discuss face to face.
2. Be honest about your own feelings. If you’re nervous, say so. If you’re upset, tell them.
3. Give your kids time to ask you any questions and answer them directly.
4. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Just be sure to follow-up with “Let’s look it up” or “Let’s find the answer together.”
5. Check in often with how they are feeling or thinking. This isn’t a one-and-done conversation.
6. Remind them about their own security by reviewing “what if” scenarios and discussing safety plans.
Hopefully this helps you find the words to talk to your kids. And in between words, remember the hugs.