Editor’s Note: We’re digging into our archives for great articles you might have missed over the years. This one about a dad explaining the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing to his children comes from 2013.
I was leaving Target, the kids fast asleep in their car seats when I got a cell phone alert about the explosions. I quickly tuned into the local news radio station, figuring it would have the most up-to-date information.
As the day’s events unfolded, traditional media and social media had a hard time keeping up with the news. Confirmed reports. Unconfirmed reports. It was very hard to decipher what was true. I looked back at my two young children, soundlessly napping, and was glad that I wouldn’t have to explain this horror to them. Their preschool teacher certainly wouldn’t be bringing the subject up.
Unfortunately, it’s very likely that this will not be the last act of violence our country and children will see. So one day, my little ones will ask me what’s happening … and I don’t know exactly the best way of explaining tragedy to children. I believe I would try to provide as many hard facts gleaned from reputable sources without confusing or scaring them with hyperbole.
During this day, I spoke with other parents. Opinions on how to handle speaking with kids varied by the age of their child.
Many recommended talking about the brave men and women who ran toward the explosion to save other people.
“I think it’s best to shelter them from it,” said Mike, a father of a 5-year-old son in Northern Virginia. “It will just make them scared to go into public places.”
My wife worried our kids might overhear teachers or older kids at school talking about the attack. She said she would try to reassure them that we are safe and gently explain that “people were hurt but the police, firemen, and hospital people helped them” This would teach them to always remember that the “good guys” such as policemen, firemen, and EMT are there to protect them. They are the real superheroes!
Parents of older children felt they needed to be more direct.
“I simplify the facts to her level of comprehension and allow her to ask as many questions as she likes,” said Christine, a mother of an 8-year-old daughter and an infant son.
“We tell our daughter the truth,” said Suzanne, the mother of a 10-year-old who lives just outside of Philadelphia. She said it’s sad that it is becoming more commonplace to talk to her daughter about violence. However, she uses these teachable moments as a time to talk about being compassionate and empathetic toward others.
These kinds of tragic events stick with children for a long time. Especially, children with big imaginations. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was watching the Challenger explode. They had wheeled TVs into the classrooms so we could watch the launch. Then, “IT” happened. I don’t remember exactly how it was explained to us, but I do remember being told not to be scared, to wait for the facts, and to pray for the families of the people who died.
While there are some really bad people in this world, I think if we focus on reassuring our kids that there are also many really good people then they will be all right.