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Tips from a Child Psychologist: How to Talk to Your Children About The Boston Marathon

Like most five year olds, my son is just full of questions. But questions about violence are the hardest to answer. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but like most parents, I have struggled to find a way to discuss the Aurora movie theater shootings, the Sandy Hook school shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.

We want our children to feel safe, yet we know we cannot keep them completely safe all the time. While watching a movie. In a classroom. Running in a marathon.  These should be “safe” activities… and statistically speaking, they still are.  But reason and statistics do not reduce my anxiety. And I think a lot of parents are in the same boat.

If you are looking for a way to discuss the Boston Marathon or other violent events with your children, you might find these tips from Dr. Phyllis Orr, a child psychologist who serves as  the Director of the Child and Parent Psychological Services Clinic at Hofstra and the Assistant Director of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, helpful. (Dr. Orr provided these tips via Press4Kids’ News-O-Matic, the first educational, news app for children 7 to 10 years old.)

  1. When the event does not personally affect the child, reassure them that everything is okay with the people they love and that nothing has changed for them.
  2. Encourage children to speak with friends as well as parents and teachers. It may be comforting for them to know that other children have the same feelings.
  3. Begin by giving the child a brief synopsis of what happened by using age appropriate language. Ask if there is something they want to know more about or if they need something explained further. If so, stick to pointedly answering their question or clarifying. Do not add on or digress.
  4.  Do not assume the news will make children feel a certain way. Ask if they know how they feel, but stress that kids feel all different ways when they hear important news and sometimes do not know how they feel or do not feel anything which is okay. However, if children are affected by it, it is their own feeling. Reassure children that no matter what they are feeling, their feelings are okay.
  5. If they are upset but don’t want to talk, suggest a fun activity for distraction or help them use calming skills like playing, drawing a picture or writing a story. These activities help release any upset feelings and make children feel better.

And, since mothers really do know best how to talk with their children, here’s a tip from my mom: “Take every opportunity to tell your children that you love them and to hug them and kiss them.” My husband may think it is a bit cheesy, but my mother told me that she loved me every single day before I went to school. She still hugs me goodbye every single time that I see her and tells me she loves me whenever we speak on the phone. I didn’t truly understand why she did this until I became a mother. Parents cannot control what may happen to us or to our children, but we can control whether or not they know that their parents love them. On that matter, I have no doubts. And, if I’m doing my job, my children won’t doubt my love either.

I also found the following resources helpful when speaking to my son:

  1. Talking to Kids About Terrorism & Acts of War – 
  2. Ten Books About 9/11 to Share with Kids & Teens-  (I read one of the recommended books “14 Cows for America” with my son around the 9/11 Anniversary and found it helpful because it focused his attention on the fact that there are so many good and kind people in the world.)
  3. Talk to Children About Terrorism & War- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry  

Please share your tips in the comments.

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One Response to "Tips from a Child Psychologist: How to Talk to Your Children About The Boston Marathon"

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