Tips for Parents on How to Talk to Your Kids about The Boston Explosion

Category: Weekly Columns

 Running Shoes and a Heart for Boston

Tips from Dr. Jennifer Weberman, Commentary by Bruce

The Boston Explosion aka The Boston Bombings have had a large impact on all of us. Such a senseless act of terror often raises difficult questions for parents and children. How can such evil exist? Where does it come from? Are we safe? What’s next? The list of questions is endless and for many of them, there is no simple answer, anymore than there is a simple answer to questions of faith. However, as parents, we must be able to comfort our children in these times of unfathomable suffering and unthinkable acts of evil.

Comic about misinformation from Boston Explosion

I sat down that morning and wrote a Social Media Social Good column, Boston Explosion: Empathy and Grief. Later that week, we discussed The Boston Explosion on my radio show with Cherylyn LeBon – from a political point-of-view, with Pastor Drew Sams – from a spiritual point-of-view, and from Dr. Jennifer Weberman – from a therapeutic point-of-view. Dr. Jennifer Weberman (The Parenting Playground) gave us six incredibly valuable tips for parents that transcend this specific event and apply to all such cataclysmic events that engulf our families. Here they are:

1. Before you explain what happened, first, ask what they know.

This helps you get a sense of where you’re starting from so you can tailor your answer to your child’s level of understanding. Also by asking what your child already knows, it quickly gives you a chance to correct any misinformation they may have.

The Grim Reaper visits Boston comic

2. When you do explain what happened to young children, match your answer to their age and developmental level.

With young kids, keep the answer simple and emphasize their safety. Sometimes adults can over intellectualize things on a level that children aren’t ready for. Simply state that “someone did something that hurt other people” or “there was an explosion and some people were hurt.” Just be sure to say, “you are safe and I love you.” If they ask for more details, go gently and gradually. Parents often tell me they want to be honest with their kids. Honesty doesn’t require that we tell them all the gruesome details. Remember: Share, Don’t Scare!

Graphic photo from the Boston Explosion

Keep in mind that kids will commonly over estimate the chances of something bad happening to them or someone they love after they hear about a tragedy (e.g. if the explosion was in a building, they may think buildings are unsafe). So emphasis on the rarity of these events and their own safety is key.

The older the child the more detail they will want and the more opinions they’ll have about the event. Open dialogue is important and allows them the freedom and space to share what’s on their mind, without filtering them or trying to ‘talk’ them out of their feelings.

3. With young kids, expect that they may regress a little bit.

They may be extra clingy or there may be bedtime anxieties that resurface. Just be consistent with routines (routines are indicators of safety and normalcy), but give extra hugs and reassurance (perhaps extra snuggle time before bed).

Mom explains safety cartoon re: Boston Bombings

4. Turn the television off and don’t watch the news (regular programming has commercials for the upcoming news).

When the news replays the same scene over and over again, it can give a young child the impression that the event is happening over and over again, which magnifies the intensity of it in their mind. Just turn the TV off when you’re with your little ones or watch videos. Note from Bruce: Also, as we well know, the news is really no longer “the news,” but rather competitive efforts to sensationalize and the dissemination of hurried, often inaccurate information, along with speculation and opinion.

5. Don’t be alarmed if your child draws, writes or plays about what happened.

If you observe your child using pretend toys to play out the event, that’s ok. This is often the way children work through things like this. It takes something scary and makes it less real by putting it into their play, which gives them more control over it (because they control the play) and leads to a sense of mastery over the situation. You can always support them by joining the play (adding rescue figures to help the injured or by reflecting back the feelings of the figures i.e. “that little dog is very scared”). Remember, they are putting some of their own feelings into those characters. If you’re concerned with something you see, contact a child psychologist for a consultation.

6. Children take coping cues from the adults in their lives, so it’s important to be aware of how you’re acting and speaking about the tragedy.

If you are on the phone speaking about what a terribly unsafe world we are raising our children in, that’s the message they will take to heart. They will believe that “the world is unsafe and the adults can’t protect me.” Don’t let the global feeling of despair linger in your home. Celebrate life by being with your loved ones. And if you want to do something to empower yourself – you can donate money or your time to the cause – do it as a family. Put positive energy into the world, so it can heal.

Marathon Runners Support Boston

There’s a great quote from Fred Rogers about “finding the helpers:”

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

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Dealing with The Empty Nest


  • Jennifer Weberman

    Bruce, thank you for the opportunity to share important information here. I wonder if parents would be willing to share the conversations they had with their own kids in this forum? Were there any particularly difficult talking points? Anything they learned that they would like to pass along to other parents?

    • Bruce Sallan

      That’s a great idea
      @Dr_Weberman – please, everyone, consider sharing any relevant personal stories from your family!?

  • Harleena Singh

    Hi Bruce and Jennifer,

    A very well-written and important post on how parents can help their kids and help them cope with such events. One can’t imagine the impact such acts have on our kids, and unless we as parents don’t talk and make them feel secure – it’s tough for them to understand what happened (the younger ones mostly), while even the teens are pretty much in their own shell unless talked to.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice day 🙂

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks Harleena – and a very special thanks to @Dr_Weberman for bringing this up on my radio show and then collaborating with me on this column!

      • Jennifer Weberman

        Thank you Harleena – if we as adults struggle to understand what happened we can imagine how hard it is for kids and teens to do the same. I hope with communication, compassion and contribution the world can heal.

  • Pingback: An Amazing Teen, the Boston Explosion, plus Death and Divorce | Bruce Sallan Radio Show | Bruce Sallan()

  • Guest

    Nice job showing us how to handle the Boston terror attacks. Now please talk to us about how to handle far more subtle totalitarian evil that is much closer to home. Earl Silverman, a fine Canadian helper just hung himself a few days ago in despair. Your sons and all sons need to men to help em prepare for the worst as they move out into the world…and to demand change for the better.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Well @0003e358a89867db100bf246375feacf:disqus – that is a much bigger question than I could possibly answer in a reply to a comment!

      • Guest

        Of course, but thanks for beginning to ‘go there’ in today’s column. Little by little the light is appearing at the end of a very dark tunnel…because people like you dare to be PIC. Every little bit helps.

        • Bruce Sallan

          TY @0003e358a89867db100bf246375feacf:disqus – not everybody is willing to take the heat of TELLING THE TRUTH – how ironic and sad is that!?