The Boston Marathon bombings are a stark reminder that the country is still vulnerable to terrorism. And with images from the deadly explosions flashing across television and all forms of social media, parents are struggling with what their kids see and grappling with how much, if at all, to tell them.
“It’s very difficult,” Dr. Janet Taylor, a community psychiatrist in New York, said on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “The first thing you do is check in with your own emotions. Because you can guarantee whatever you’re feeling, your kids are feeling as well.”
Among the parents conflicted are Maud Sachs and Erin Roy, both of whom live in New York City and, incidentally, went through the 9/11 attacks nearly 12 years ago.
“What I really want to do is cry and hold her close and never let her go,” Sachs, mother of 6-year-old Lydia, told ABC News.
Roy knows the feeling. She wonders what to say to her daughter, Asha, 6, who already acts wise beyond her years.
“The real struggle is that I want my daughter to have a childhood,” Roy said. “I think Asha’s very aware and very sensitive and she asks amazing questions.”
Taylor says it’s important to have a direct, controlled conversation with your children to re-establish a sense of control.
“You can explain there are bad people in the world, but there are good people,” Taylor said. “Let’s focus on the good that’s in this house right now. You can ask them to ask you questions. Answer them honestly. If you don’t know an answer, find the information together.”
Monitoring your kids’ “screen time” is also a key factor in making sure they are not over-exposed to graphic material.
“You have to monitor screen time,” Taylor said. “Screen time is computers, TVs and phones. Understand your kids are probably seeing it before you do, and when they’re at school you have no control. But you can re-establish those boundaries about what they’re watching.”
Dr. Sebastian Schubl, a trauma surgeon at Jamaica Hospital in New York City, says words like “shrapnel” and “amputation” are difficult for children to deal with, especially when associated with the graphic images floating all over the internet.
Schubl added, however, it’s important to assure your children that these people can be saved. “They can have fulfilling lives. They’re going to require lots of health care, lots of attention, lots of surgery, but we will get them through.
“The first responders in Boston did an incredible job. They clearly saved lives. And telling your kids that exists, that the health care system will work for you, I think that provides a lot reassurance.”
Several parents in Los Angeles said they were trying to make sense of it all.
“It’s difficult depending on their age; what they can handle or take in,” one parent said.
Another added, “You don’t want to scare them, but you want them to be aware of what’s going on in the world.”
Jamie Howard, a clinical child psychologist in New York, says the Boston Marathon explosions are something that parents should be talking about to children of all ages.
“Kids are getting information really quick these days, so it might not be that another 5-year-old is seeing it on the Internet, but then the older kids at school are talking about it,” Howard said.
Howard has some tips for parents when dealing with their children. Try to be calm and direct when you talk with your child, even you’re a little afraid yourself. Also, sadness, anxiety and even nightmares are normal in children after a national tragedy. And, lastly, don’t let teenagers fool you.
“You want to be there for them to correct any misinformation,” Howard said.
Sachs said she hasn’t told daughter Lydia, 6, about the explosion yet because she’s still deciding what to say.
“It’s the worst thing in the world to tell this being that somebody has killed someone else,” she said.
Roy, on the other hand, made the difficult decision to talk with Asha, 6, Monday night.
“I would rather she hear this from me than from other people,” Roy said.
And little Asha handled the news quite well.
“We lit candles for everyone we appreciate,” Asha said.
Dr. Taylor agrees that a good coping mechanism for children during this difficult time is doing something to help others.
“The little girl in the video lit a candle,” Taylor said. “They can write a letter. Re-establish that people are good that they can touch in their own lives.”
But most important, she notes, is to continue with your daily routine.
“One hallmark of terrorism and a terrorist attack is psychological, to get you off your game,” Taylor said.
“Re-establish your routine. Walk with your kids to school, but don’t change what you’re doing.”