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Childhood as a garden: Don't let Boston Marathon bombings spread weeds

The Boston Marathon bombings may foster helplessness, despair, but they don't have to. Be proactive in helping others, says Dr. David J. Schonfeld. And allowing your child to express their feelings – in the comment section below, in private, or as Lisa Suhay suggests through gardening – can be salutary.

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / April 17, 2013

People sign a banner that says 'Boston, you're our home' during an impromptu vigil begins on Boston Common for victims of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, on April 16 in Boston.

Melanie Stetson Freeman

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The intention of terrorist attacks is typically to make a political statement and generate fear. And like weeds in the garden of childhood, such attacks may sow feelings of helplessness and despair in our kid's thoughts.

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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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As parents we need to get our kids up, up, and away from scary images and dark thoughts by empowering them to be life’s gardeners, “helpers” who plant and grow back the good thoughts.

“So many people rushed in to help during and after the Boston Marathon bombings. Those people who can help will have a better recovery than someone who is just forensically watching the same images of trauma over and over on the news or Internet,” said Dr. David J. Schonfeld, chief pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, Philadelphia, a member of the Sandy Hook Commission on School Crises, during a telephone interview the day after the marathon.

A quote by Fred Roger’s (the former host of Mister Roger's Neighborhood) has become a rallying point following the Boston attack: “When I was a little boy and something bad happened in the news, my mother would tell me to ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping,' she'd say. And I've found that that's true.”

We have seen the stories and images of those who, after the bombs exploded, rushed in where most would fear to tread and brought aid and comfort to victims.

Schonfeld explained that, without realizing it, those who help and bring comfort by expressing condolences, offering a hand to an injured stranger, or bunking a displaced runner are actually doing the best thing anyone can do to help themselves cope with the tragedy.

“If you can’t help someone in Boston, helping someone in your community with your child works too,” Schonfeld said from Washington, where he was with military officials at the Pentagon discussing ways to help support children grieving after the loss of a military parent. “Maybe it’s just writing a letter to someone in Boston to tell them you are thinking of them. Drawing a picture, writing a poem or condolence card.”

“I work with these families on these horrible events and even I don’t know all the number of shots fired at a crime scene,” Schonfeld said. “Nobody needs to know that stuff. We just don’t need those images in our heads.”

“What you really need is to know you have the power to do something, even if it’s something as small as helping pick up trash in a local cleanup or writing about how you feel and sending a letter to someone in Boston.”

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