Parenting: Kids need straight talk about tragedy

News-DemocratApril 22, 2013 

When the nation focuses on a tragic, terrible event, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, it's inevitable that children will see the images, hear bits of the news, and start asking questions.

Parents walk a narrow line between informing their children or scaring the heck out of them when they address current events. Kids are bound to ask questions and may wonder if they have to worry about the same thing happening to them or someone they love. That concern is very real to them.

I have been tempted to keep some things quiet, but, eventually, Boogie will hear about it, or a version of the event, from her friends or in the halls at school. Sometimes what she hears is close to being right. Other times, her "facts" are so completely off the mark it's amazing.

I didn't tell her about Boston right away. The bombings aren't something I felt the need to rush home and tell her about. She saw the highly-circulated video and photos of the bombing, the ones with blood on the sidewalks and people rushing away from the blast zone. And, of course, she had questions. She was irritated with me, at first, for not telling her about it when it happened. But when I explained that it wasn't something I felt she really needed to know right away, I think she understood my reasons and she forgave me. But not before mentioning that she was a baby when 9/11 happened so she's always been alive with people talking about and being scared about bombings in the United States. So she thinks I should tell her when another one happens.

Roll that one around in your head for a little bit. Sixth-graders today have always had 9/11 as part of their lives. And war.

She has concerns. Even some fear.

It would be super easy to tell her that something like that could never happen here in small town Illinois, so she doesn't need to worry about it.

That would be a lie. I don't make it a habit of lying to my child.

I could have just acknowledged that it happened. Yes, it was terrible, yes people died and more were hurt. Terrible things happen to good people. Something else awful would catch our collective national attention in a few days anyway, so why dwell on it any more than necessary.

Boogie is old enough to understand, but still young enough to be irrationally afraid if the topic isn't handled carefully. I answer her questions as well as I can without scaring her any more than necessary.

Yes, it could happen here, I explained, but it's highly unlikely. We should all be vigilant, but not overly hyper about the vigilance. It should not dominate our everyday lives to the point of being crippling. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of strange people acting oddly. But don't let it rule your life. There is no reason to go through life constantly fearful and worried of what might happen.

No, I don't know why someone would want to hurt so many innocent people. But someone did, and it's terrible and the police and government are hoping to catch the person or people responsible.

We talked about terrorists and terrorism and bombings and 9/11 and awful people who do horrible things to others.

The hardest question she asked I couldn't answer very well: "Why do people hate us so much?"

I could have launched into the litany of reasons: from religion, to politics, to freedoms and rights and our government. I didn't. I kept it simple.

"They hate us for who we are, and what they aren't."

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