My husband and sons were in Boston last Monday afternoon when the marathon bombings happened. They were far from the finish line, fortunately, in a restaurant at Faneuil Hall, where TVs were on and the news of the explosions had patrons standing at attention. Both my seven year old and five year old knew something bad had happened, but like the rest of us at the moment, they didn’t know exactly what.
As the news continued to unfold during the course of spring vacation week, I sneakily tried to keep on top of it on my I-Phone with headphones. My five year old seemed uninterested, but my seven year old seemed a bit obsessed. To my surprise, he asked if he could watch a video of the explosions on my husband’s I-Pad.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. “Some people got hurt and it could be scary. But you know what? One thing that’s really good that came out of this? There were lots of helpers there who helped people. So lots of people are going to be OK because of that.”
Ok, so my delivery wasn’t that smooth, but it was enough to allow my son to move on and play a game on his I-Pad instead. Throughout the week, however, the topic continued to come up. While driving, the boys had a discussion about the cause of the bombings, the little brother seeking his big brother’s wisdom for answers.
“Ethan, what caused the explosions…was it a gas explosion?”
“I think it was oil,” Ethan said. “An oil explosion.”
“Did the police work all night?”
“They worked like five hours. Then they switched and someone else worked.”
All of this said with such certainty. I didn’t interrupt, as at that point, I had no better answers than they did (although five hours was certainly giving the police short shrift, I let it slide). By Saturday, the boys knew there were “bad guys” involved, but that one was dead and the other in police custody. End of story.
But was it?
This week they are back at school, where they may or may not hear classmates talking more about the events of last week. It’s unavoidable—tragedies will continue to happen, and peers will continue to talk about them and we cannot protect our children from this reality. But there are some simple things we can do to comfort our children that will not only help them feel safe, but ultimately help them learn to compassionately comfort others.
Check-in. If you suspect your children might be hearing things at school, particularly if they are showing any signs of distress, check in with them. This way they won’t be processing everything only with other kids, or trying to make sense of misinformation, or adopting others’ fears as their own. Be careful however to follow your children’s lead, and not introduce or prolong the conversation more than they need. And as much as possible, keep the news turned off.
Stick to Routines. Whether it’s your family dinner routine, or bedtime routine, try to maintain a sense of normalcy. Hopefully you already have a bedtime reading routine, but if not, reading books at bedtime is a tried and true way for families to provide comfort during difficult times.
Hug often. Enough said, but here’s a piece on the benefits of hugging if you’re interested.
Let them help. Allowing kids to perform an act of kindness—like raising money for a cause or writing cards to a victim—can be very empowering and healing. Some kids prefer to come up with their own ideas, but if you need resources, you can check here.