It's the day after the Boston Marathon bombings and three people are dead,
including an 8-year-old boy who came to cheer his father on during the race. The
boy's mother and sister are both seriously injured. A nation is on edge - again.
And parents are wondering what to tell their young children and how to help them
cope with the carnage.
"If it's a very young child, I would keep him away from TV sets, try to limit
their access to the kind of news that I've been watching myself on TV," said Dr
Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York
"As kids get a little older, they take their leads from their parents. If
their parents are frightened and anxious, the kids will be frightened and
anxious," Hilfer added. "If parents are able to present a calmer [response], the
kids will begin to relax more. If the parents reassure the kids that this is
something the police and federal authorities are looking into, and they'll
figure out who did this and how to deal with it, kids will be less
What parents can do
By now, children have already seen and heard a lot about the Boston tragedy,
noted Dr Rachel Yehuda, a psychiatrist and post-traumatic stress disorder expert
at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
"Children already know - I don't think that parents need to bring up events
like this because they'll hear about it from their friends and in their schools,
on the news," Yehuda said. "The parent's job is to make the child feel very safe
and encourage the child to ask any questions that they have."
On the other hand, Yehuda said, parents should "resist completely minimising
the anxiety, because we do live in a world where it is important to prepare
ourselves and our children for adversity. But the idea that bad things happen
but you can be safe is a more powerful message than 'don't worry, that can never
happen,' which is fictitious and doesn't ultimately serve to calm down a child.
You can't go against the reality," she explained.
"'Why would anybody want to do this?' is not only a child's question," she
added. "The answer to that is, 'The world is full of different kinds of people
and most people are very, very good - like how we're trying to raise you. But
there are some damaged people out there who want to harm innocent people and
luckily there aren't too many of them.'"
'Psychological first aid'
Sadly, past tragedies - from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 to the
school shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December - have given health
professionals lots of experience dealing with the emotional impact of mass
"We've learned, unfortunately, from so many other difficult situations that
really, what we want to do is provide what we call psychological first aid,"
said Dr Victor Fornari, director of child/adolescent psychiatry at North
Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, NY.
Psychological first aid means "just to stabilise emotions, help students' and
children's behaviour return to normal, and to try to help them re-engage in
their usual activities and classroom learning," he said.
"Try to reassure them and return them to their functioning, and really be
very active listeners, so that for those who have particular concerns, they can
be identified," Fornari added.
Certain young people may be more affected by events like the Boston bombings,
"Because we know that about 10% of the adolescent and child population
already experiences an anxiety disorder, people who are already of heightened
anxiety may have additional worries," Fornari said.
But, in past tragedies "the vast majority of children and families were able
to follow whatever the events were, read about them, follow the mourning and the
grief period, and return to their activities," he added.
"If parents detect that their child is worrying excessively, they may want to
consult their paediatrician or their family physician or another trusted
person," Fornari suggested.
The 8-year-old boy killed in Boston was Martin Richard, of Dorchester,
"It touches people in a particularly poignant way when you know that an
innocent child died, particularly knowing the circumstances, and just how tragic
that is," Fornari said.
"We can put a face on that terror."
'Connecting with others help'
Adults have their own anxieties to deal with as the world reacts to the
events in Boston. US cities including Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New York
are ramping up police presence in public venues. In London, security
arrangements for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's funeral are being
intensified, the Associated Press reported.
Such very public escalations of security can put people under greater
Both Fornari and Yehuda agreed that doing something positive and reaching out
to others can help everyone cope.
"If kids are impacted, you can allow them to retell the event, either through
writing, through artwork," Fornari suggested.
"Children and adults often feel very powerless when this kind of an event
occurs," Yehuda said.
"But doing something, being positive, is a great way to make a child and an
adult feel less helpless and less terrified. A child can always be encouraged to
do something positive - like writing letters to people that are in the hospital,
for example, or trying to raise money, or trying to see if there are any kids
that we can send something to, to cheer them up."
If you're anxious and on edge, Yehuda said to "try to become part of a
problem-solving solution. Within an hour of the explosion yesterday, there was
an online social media website in Boston where people offered their homes and
their beds, to do things for other people."
Connecting with others helps, too, she said.
"It's an incredibly moving and important aspect of trauma to know that you
are in a community where the good really outweighs the bad, and that for every
person out there who has an intent to harm, there are millions with the opposite
intent," Yehuda said.
"So something good can come out of these tragedies. One is, we find our
Mental Health America has more on helping
children cope with tragedy.
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