Excellent article on how to speak with your children about
the Boston bombings. Sad that we so often need to address this
Expert Advice: Talking to Your Kids About the Boston Bombings
I really can't believe I'm writing this post. I feel like
target="_blank">I just wrote it four months ago, after the
tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. But with the realization that I
can do almost nothing from several states away to help the people
of Boston, I hope that I can at least help parents around the
country in deciding how to talk to their kids about what happened
at the Boston Marathon. Parent educator and psychotherapist
Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., offered some helpful advice this
morning in a phone interview.
At first, I thought that kids might not react as strongly to this
news story as they did to the Sandy Hook Elementary School
shootings, because that involved a lot of children in a place
that's supposed to be safe. However, as this story unfolds, we
know that, in fact, "http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/04/15/three-killed-more-than-injured-marathon-blast/QQOiYNU2n1vt1Xul3BXVsL/story.html"
target="_blank">many children were directly affected. Public
schools are closed in Boston on the day of the Boston Marathon,
so many children were there to cheer on the runners. Many
children were injured; eight-year-old "http://abcnews.go.com/US/year-died-boston-marathon-waiting-greet-father/story?id=18965706#.UW1NLrXvvzw"
target="_blank">Martin Richard died waiting to greet his
father at the finish line.
It was a marathon: a celebration of health, happiness, endurance,
community. A celebration of Boston. No matter what comes of the
investigation, no matter who is responsible, this is terrorism.
We have four kids; twin girls in sixth grade, another daughter in
third grade, and a son in first grade. I didn't talk with them
about this last night because honestly, all three of our
daughters have diagnosed anxiety disorders, and bedtime is not
the right time for a discussion like this. Our son, who has
Asperger Syndrome, tends to be very anxious too.
I didn't talk about this yet with my nine-year-old daughter and
seven-year-old son. I should have. It will come up in school
today, certainly for my third grader. Dr. Heffner concurred.
"I spoke with a dad this morning whose 10-year-old daughter
received a text, 'let's pray for the people in Boston,'" she said
to me in a phone interview. "Even little kids today walk around
with cell phones. It's a technological world, so it's very hard
to know what your children are picking up. Even if they haven't
watched the news, they're connected in other ways."
One issue holding me up on discussing it with them was knowing
what was age-appropriate. Should I even talk about it with my
seven-year-old? Can I possibly skip it altogether with my
nine-year-old? She has massive anxiety issues and she's
currently recovering from post-concussion syndrome, and I know
that this will trigger some difficulties for her.
Dr. Heffner advised me not to focus what's appropriate for their
age, but rather what's appropriate for their developmental level,
and what else is going in their lives. "There's no one-size-fits
all answer to these questions," she said. "If a child has ongoing
issues like anxiety, you probably have some resources to use in
terms of how this will impact her. But at age nine, she is going
to be getting some feedback on this. Undoubtedly it will come up
in school one way or another."
So, yes, I need to talk with my younger kids , too: both of them,
bearing in mind that they're already anxious people. I'll talk to
them after school. Conveniently, we have an appointment with our
therapist tonight, but even if we didn't, she's only a phone call
Before I talk with them, I need to remember to keep my own
anxiety in check, Dr. Heffner suggests. "As parents, we have our
own anxiety," she noted. "We have anxiety about the thing that
happened, and then we have anxiety about how it will impact our
children. Our job is to not put that anxiety on our children."
Parents should start by finding out what their children already
know (or think they know) about what happened in Boston, Dr.
Heffner advised. Then, present the facts.
"You have to acknowledge that something bad happened," Dr.
Heffner said. "We can't protect children from that. They know
there are bad guys in the world. This is not something they can
go through life without confronting. Our job as parents is to be
there for them, and reassure them as much as we can, that we will
"You have to tell them, so that they begin to develop the ability
to deal with these things on their own."
Children may not react the way we expect them to, and they may
not understand the implications of what happened, and that's
okay, said Dr. Heffner.
"It's a reflection of the way children are," she said. "They are
literal. They are focused on concrete things. They don't always
react to things exactly as we do."
On a personal note, this is a huge score for those of us with
kids on the spectrum because we know alllllll about
being literal and focusing on concrete things.
This morning, I did discuss what happened with my older
daughters. In their middle school, they watch the news. They will
hear about it. Rumors will fly. It is always better for
us to have the conversation at home rather than let them hear
garbled information from their peers. It is always better for us
to provide context, give the facts, head off rumors.
I told them what happened: that two bombs went off near the
finish line of the Boston Marathon, at a time when many, many
runners were coming through. That three people died, including an
eight-year-old boy. That as of latest reports, 145 people were
injured, some of them still in critical condition.
I answered their questions: no, we don't know who did it. We
don't know how many people are responsible. Boston police are
working with lots of other government agencies to find out who
did it. I reminded them that terrorist doesn't mean the
same thing as Muslim, but that a lot of people think it
I told them that it's important to remember that yes, there are
bad people in the world, but that there are many, many more good
people than bad. I told them about people who helped, people who
ran toward the explosion, people who cleared the path for
ambulances. I told them about people who opened their homes to
strangers, even though we don't know who did this. I told them
about marathon runners who crossed the street and donated blood
after running for four hours.
What I didn't do: I didn't show them photos. I can barely handle
them myself. I saw one of a man in a wheelchair, who was missing
the lower parts of both legs. The man running alongside the
wheelchair appeared to be holding an IV. It wasn't. It was the
victim's femoral artery he was clamping shut with his fingers.
Is it important to for me, an adult, to know the truth of what
happened, the horror of it? Yes. Do my 12-year-olds need to see
that kind of thing? No.
"I think parents should always should use guidance on
what their children watch and don't watch," said Dr. Heffner,
while also reminding parents that kids with social media accounts
(or even friends with social media accounts) may be seeing more
than you think.
Especially coming on the heels of the Sandy Hook tragedy, parents
are wise to always be observant of their children's behavior.
"Observe what your child is communicating to you through their
behavior," said Dr. Heffner. "If you're seeing signs that
something is really bothering them-sleep disruptions, nail-biting
that wasn't there before-ask them what's going on."
But don't ask them about Boston right off the bat, because they
might be worried about something much closer to home;
standardized testing, softball try-outs, friend drama.
Dr. Heffner recommended opening up a conversation with "I think
you're worried about something. I see that you're having trouble
sleeping. Do you have any thoughts about what may be bothering
If your child doesn't open up, you can try digging a little bit
more. "What happened in Boston was pretty upsetting. I wonder if
you're worried about that."
Dr. Heffner, who is also the author of "http://www.amazon.com/Goodenoughmothering-Best-LCSW-Elaine-Heffner/dp/147971609X/"
target="_blank">GoodEnoughMothering, said that
often, just talking with a parent and knowing that someone
understands, will help resolve the issue.
"No one knows a child as well as the parent," she noted. "And
parents can do a lot on their own. We live in a world where
there's a very quick assumption, that if something's wrong, you
need outside help immediately. I believe that parents have a lot
more skill and power than they think they do."
Dr. Heffner clarified that if a child's worries are interfering
with daily life, it might be time to seek some help. "Obviously,
if the worrying persists, and interferes with their functioning,
you might want to talk with somebody about it."
"The most important thing you can do is to really be in touch
with your own child," she added.
Have you talked with your kids about the bombings at the
Boston Marathon? I'd love for you to share in in the comments
what's worked for you and your family.
Read more from Joslyn on "http://www.babble.com/contributor/joslyngray/">Babble and at
her blog, stark.
raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on "http://www.facebook.com/starkravingmadmommy">Facebook,
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