How to talk to your kids about the Boston Marathon
Yesterday in session, a client raised the issue of the Boston Marathon and how to explain this terrorist act to her son who is 9 and who has been increasingly anxious and unable to sleep since the explosion. We sat down and tried to find the right words to convey the gravity of the situation yet at the same time helping to ease the anxiety and build resilience for our kids. This is a tough situation and one that should be handled delicately.
First things first, acknowledge the unfairness of life and that bad things DO happen to good people and sometimes we don't know why. Acknowledge that there are many aspects of life which are beyond our control AND there are also many aspects of life where we do have control such as wearing a seat-belt or learning proper safety procedures. When you acknowledge and validate their concerns, they don't feel so alone because they know that you are also feeling the same way. When we educate our children on the stress process, we let them know that anxiety is an appropriate and biological response to this stressful situation and teach them what they can do to relieve this stress from their minds and body for the present and also in the future. When children are able to actively practice those things in their lives that they DO have control of such as knowing their parent's phone number or how to get help, they internalize this control into their lives helping them to feel less anxious.
Next, reassure your child that they are safe and that no harm will come to them. Let them know that you as a parent are here and that their elected officials and community helpers in law enforcement, police, fire, principals, teachers and ALL there community members are there to love, support and protect them daily.
You may also share your thoughts on being mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for a disaster. If they DO go through a similar situation, what do you want them to do? Run through the scenario to TRAIN them on the best way to handle an attack. Do you want them to get closer and observe? Do you want them to stop and call on a phone, do you want them to run and look for police? Practice BEHAVIOR REHEARSAL, children will do as you practice with them. So practice now and use key words to identify that this is an emergency situation.
Lastly, if you feel strongly about the tragedy, you may lean on your faith based systems and conduct a memorial or acknowledgement of the tragedy. In mental health, spirituality is clinically proven as one of the most powerful means of combating stress, anxiety and depression.
If you or your child continues to have difficulty sleeping, eating or functioning, you may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and you should get professional help.