Getting By With Your Family in a Crazy World

springtimeI knew soon after I heard about the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that I wanted to post a blog about helping parents help their children cope with it.  Then I began to cope, and that took much of my energy until this afternoon. Many of you know that I live and work just outside of Boston.  The marathon route goes right through my home town and often we join the thousands of other onlookers cheering the runners on from the sidelines.  This year we were walking our dog in the arboretum in another part of Boston on Monday afternoon.  We heard many sirens, but we imagined that this is just life in the city.  Not until we got home and found a message on the phone from our son did we realize that something was amiss.  He wanted to know that we were all right.  Happily, we all were all right.

There is something about having a senseless act of violence and mayhem in your own neighborhood that is more unsettling than having it far away.  The marathon is a delightful rite of Spring and celebration of people’s health and ability to surmount tremendous obstacles.  Every year there are moving stories in the news about the remarkable “ordinary” people who train to run after they have recovered from cancer or in honor of a loved one.  They run alongside (well, far behind) the elite runners who come from all over the world.  When you go to cheer the runners along the route or at the finish line you are only a few feet away from them.  I thought to myself that if I still had a teenager at home, I would have no hesitation in letting him or her take the train into Boston to watch from the finish line.  It’s a community event.

That has changed for now.  Someone or ones reminded us that we are never totally safe.  We will regain our sense of safety because we need it in order to exist, but for now, Boston and it surrounding towns are shocked and mourning.

How do we help our children cope with this terrible event?

  1. First, limit media exposure.  I grant that this advice is a little late, but it is still important.  The scenes of bloody wounded people and caregivers are frightening.  And the repetition of the details inflicts another trauma.
  2. Tailor your explanation to your children’s age. One can tell children that an explosion took place and that people were hurt, but they do not need the literally gory details. For younger children you might be able to keep the event from them, and I would support that.  If you cannot, keep the details spare.
  3. Emphasize the true and moving stories of the many people who helped the wounded and got them to our fine local hospitals.  There’s a Mr. Rogers quote going around on Facebook that I like very much.  He says that when he was young and a disaster happened, his mother told him to look for the helpers, because they are always there.  The helpers in Boston were heroic on Monday.
  4. Take care of yourself.  As they say when you are preparing for takeoff in an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first before you help your children.
  5. Limit your own exposure to the media.  Decide when you’ll tune in to get an update (preferably after you children go to bed).  Some people find it easier to listen to the radio because they don’t get the repeated video of the bloody aftermath.
  6. Get your rest.  You might find that it is hard to sleep because an event like this can make you and your children more anxious in general.  But you are much better able to manage your anxiety if you are rested.  If you can manage your anxiety, you will be less likely to communicate unnecessary upset to your children.
  7. Find some special time with your children.  Time together doing something pleasant reaffirms that you are all together looking after one another.  It is reassuring to young and old.
  8. Having said that it is also helpful to children to maintain their regular schedule.
  9. Older children will want to talk about why such things happen, the big existential questions that come up with disasters.  Engage with them. It’s a great opportunity to have a talk about your world views and values.
  10. If a spiritual or religious practice is part of your family life, use it at this time.  There are many vigils and prayer services happening throughout the area.

May we all live in peace and safety.  But when we cannot, may we support each other and offer comfort.


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Photo credit:  Scyllarides on Flickr

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