CALMING FEARS: Talking to Kids about Tragedy

Images, news reports and even discussions of what happened in Boston are unavoidable. The around-the-clock coverage makes it nearly impossible for parents to shield their children from what happened on Monday. Some parents, like Jennifer Williams from Ankeny, have decided for that reason to take a proactive approach to talking to their kids about the tragedy.

As a runner, the explosions at the Boston Marathon struck a chord with Williams, “I think my first reaction was thinking about all of the people who were not yet finished and thinking about my own family.” But because she is a parent who never runs a race without her three young children watching from the sidelines, it really hit home.

“Their families didn`t know where they were, they didn`t know where their families were, and to just think about that chaos and to think of what that would have been like,” said Williams.

A day later, her mind was still on her family. But now, she was trying to figure out how to explain all of it to a 10 year old, a 7 year old, and a 4 year old.

“I do want them to know what happened because they`re going to go to school, and there`s going to be kids talking,” said Williams.

Pediatrician Peter Hetherington from Blank Children’s Hospital encourages parents to talk with their kids about it. “Kids are very smart, they are probably more tuned into things at different ages than we sometimes expect so I think they want to be told the truth and to try to explain it,” said Dr. Hetherington.

Dr. Hetherington says it is important to find a balance in how you do it. He explained, “I would say follow the cues from the individual kiddos. Don`t bring it up. Try to see if they seem like things are bothering them.”

Dr. Hetherington said he realizes every family has their own way of handling something like this, but he suggests no matter how it’s explained, parents should remember to reassure their children.

“You should try reassure them that things are safe where they are, things are safe at their school, things are safe when they play, so that they don`t worry,” said Hetherington.

Williams says that reassurance is a priority for her and her children, especially with the Drake half marathon only days away.

“I want them to still be there, and I see no reason for any of us to not still be there,” said Williams, “but if they`ve got questions and concerns, absolutely, we are going to address those and make sure they know it’s safe before we head out for race day.”

Dr. Hetherington says none of his patients have asked him questions about the tragedy yet, but he says he expects a few phone calls in the days to come about nightmares, and even symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. Hetherington says those can be a sign your child is afraid, or struggling to cope with the tragedy.

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