Boston Marathon: Poise, no TV key to helping kids cope, says pediatrician
As TV images of the Boston Marathon bombings proliferate, it's important for parents to turn off the tube and, speaking calmly, share their own fears with their children, says a nationally recognized pediatrician.
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Zoltan was just a toddler during his first big storm, and as I ran to scoop up our son my husband came in like an NFL star and blocked me saying, “Don’t! If you rush him with that look on your face and use your scared voice not to be afraid, he’ll always be afraid.”Skip to next paragraph
Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.
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Back then all I wanted to do was cuddle our toddler for mutual comfort. Last night I felt that same urge to draw my son close for comfort and reassurance, but I didn’t because I knew my husband was right. I knew it because the only one of our four sons who flinches during a storm is the youngest, Quin, because he was at a friend’s house during his first storm and all the kids and the mom there freaked out to the max. It was hard to undo that impression.
So when Quin walked into the room as I stood watching the news from Boston I worked hard to rearrange my features into my practiced blank look.
“There’s a bomb at a race?” Quin asked in a shaky voice. He was reading the news crawl on CNN aloud and at that early stage his voice carried the words, “Two dead? 28 injured? Limbs lost? I don’t see trees in the video what limbs are they talking about?"
Quin loves to run, and Zoltan, who is at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. studying Homeland Security and Criminal Justice, is a runner who was home this past weekend and mentioned in front of Quin that he hopes to do the Boston marathon next year.
“Was Zoltan there?” he demanded. I explained his brother was safe in Richmond, and Quin finally turned away from the screen and I could feel his eyes on me, scanning every inch of my face for clues on how to react. I have actually practiced my neutral look in the mirror in years past and at this point I wasn’t giving anything away.
Instead of whisking him away from the TV, covering his eyes or drawing him close for the hug, I watched with him and calmly, rationally gave him all the answers I could.
After a while, Quin said, “So it’s random then. We can’t do anything about random.”
I assured him that was the case and also that when things like this happen, people in the FBI and Homeland Security, like his big brother Zoltan, learn more about how to prevent it from ever happening again.
“So the odds go up in favor of the good people?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered.
However, this morning when I saw the local paper with the word "TERROR" in bold black letters taking up everything from the banner to the fold and below the fold a photo of a man drenched in blood, I hid it. I didn’t want that to be the day-two message my kids see.
The word actually made me furious because that is not the message Americans need to focus on today. We need words like PRAYER and ANSWERS. The image we need is that of the volunteers who ran toward the danger in the moments after the blast in order to rescue others.
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When I asked Quin how he was feeling about the events he’d seen on TV yesterday, he answered, “Well, I’m freaked out because I still can’t understand it. I just can’t understand why you would do something so horrible. I know I’m safe but until I understand it, I guess the freak-out’s still there.”
Man’s inhumanity to man is not going to end anytime soon. No matter how many answers we get from the investigators, as parents we know that as in cases like 9/11, Sandy Hook, and now Boston, the message to give kids is that we’re here and safe, and our very best people are on the job making sure the bad guys come to justice and we come to no further harm.