In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing many parents are wondering how to talk to their children about this event and future acts of violence when they occur. I encourage you to read the articles linked below and also offer these thoughts of my own about talking to your kids:
1. If your child or teenager does not bring up the incident on their own, should you? If they see TV or internet coverage of it for more than 10 minutes, I think the answer is yes. That is more than enough time for it to make its imprint on their brain regardless of their age.
2. Is your child/teen a talker and likely to bring up topics like this? Or does your child/teen internalize their thoughts? Either is fine of course. It is just good to keep in mind.
3. Be patient and compassionate with them. They are creating their own process for handling the disturbing information. Give them a chance to sit with being stuck with their thinking and emotions a short time before offering them guidance.
4. Use open ended questions like, “Tell me more about what you heard.” Or, “What do your friends think about it all?” This will help them find their way to deeper questions and insight. One technique you could practice is the technique of Active Listening. Here are a couple of interesting links you can follow to learn more about the technique of active listening. http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/65759.htm and http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm
5. Let your child/teen direct the conversation. Answer their questions with concrete information and a core since of compassion. Say, “I don’t know.”, If you don’t know.
6. Don’t offer more information or insight than they are asking for. If they are not asking for it they may not be ready for more details. Be OK with the conversation ending and bringing it up again later if appropriate.
7. If your child asks you a question at anytime day or night. Stop what you are doing, repeat their question back to them, and ask them if you understand their question correctly. Give them very basic information like, “Yes…some children were killed.” Give them time to ask the next question or prompt them with an open ended question like, “When did you first hear about it?”
8. Keep your eyes and ears and gut open for recognizing changes in their eating, friendships, academics, general routines and emotions. If they get worse dramatically and suddenly, or get worse steadily over a period of 1-4 weeks seek professional help.
9. If there is a lesson you would like them to learn from the event, save it for a few days after the incident and use the event as a past example. They will be able to comprehend the lesson better with a couple of days to process the complex implications of the event. This goes for the topics of revenge, ‘I told you so’s’, religion, and politics. These are complex topics that are not best introduced when there is the potential of the child/teen being disturbed and confused and possibly traumatized.
10. Give your kids lots of hugs and demonstrate they are safe with you in their everyday activities. Emphasize the basics of safety, like looking both ways before crossing the street or doing a check in call at 11pm on a Friday night. Be steadfast with home rules like curfew or bedtime and be sure to be around for them, or with them, while they get ready for bed.
11. Teens are typically OK to hear or join in on adult conversations which often include more graphic and emotional accountings of the event. Children are not.
One last thought. Practice these techniques by having a conversation with yourself in your head… Then try them out with your adult friends and family. It will be good practice for when you talk to your kids.
Check out these Links:
Children need to have answers to three fundamental questions: Am I safe? Are you, the people who take care of me, safe? How will these events affect my daily life? http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/04/talk-children-marathon-bombs
Keep checking in. Byron