Like millions of other parents, I struggled with the challenge of how best to tell my children about the tragedy of the Boston Marathon Bombings. How much do I tell my children? Which of my children should I tell? Do I tell them at all?
As a child psychologist, I am often asked questions that may be different but share the similarity of parents wanting to know if it was appropriate for them to share with their children difficult information. For example, “Should I tell my 10 year old child that his grandmother just got diagnosed with cancer?” or “My brother is in the hospital and the doctors say that he has less than 24 hours to live. Should I tell my 6 year old daughter? Should I take her to the funeral?”
If you do read all the experts out there, you will find varying opinions to how you, the parent, should respond to your child in the midst of any potential trauma. You will read convincing perspectives ranging from “parents should be talking about the tragedy to kids of all ages” to “you should turn off all television and internet in front of your children.”
I have to admit that I didn’t at all anticipate the way my two older children (ages almost 7 and almost 9) found out about the Boston bombings: At a local restaurant. When I came back from ordering dinner, I saw that my kids were watching on the overhead screen gory images of many of the victims who were killed and injured, including an 8 year old boy. The truth is that I didn’t even think about telling them this morning. Not because I wanted to shield them from the trauma. But rather it was just a regular busy, hectic morning that consisted of waking up, washing up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and quickly dashing out of the door to make it to school by 7:45am. I simply didn’t think to tell them. From the looks on their faces, there was no mention of it at school either.
I calmly explained to my children what happened and answered the questions they understandably had, except for Elyon (almost 9) asked about why a person would want to do something so terrible and hurt so many people. Even moms can’t answer that question.
As I go to sleep tonight, I can’t help but wish that I had the chance to be the one to tell my children what happened in Boston. I realize that while I don’t believe that I should give my children full access to every gory detail via internet or news footage, I do believe as a parent, that I want to be the one to share with my children the realities of life. I want to be the one who is there beside them, to reassure them that they are safe, to create open and honest pathways of communication, and to give my children skills to the best of my ability to cope with unexpected, horrific tragedy.