In light of the Boston marathon explosion Monday, Carol Johnson, superintendent of Boston Public Schools, sent a memo to school families and staffers with guidance on how to talk to kids about tragedies. (The students are out for vacation this week).
Johnson forwarded recommendations from the National Association of School Psychologists, including advice that adults "remain calm and reassuring," and that they allow kids to ask questions and express their feelings about the event. Parents should answer their children's questions by "stick[ing] to the facts," she wrote, and discussing them in "age-appropriate terms."
Lastly, she wrote, parents should strive to "limit the amount of news coverage" children see on TV and on the Internet while they're on break. "Above all, please keep the families of those who were involved today in your thoughts and prayers. We hope you will also reflect on the many men and women who immediately stepped in to help," she wrote. "Our city is full of heroes and we are thankful for every one -- and we are thankful for you, too. We look forward to seeing you back at school next week."
See the full memo below.
Dear BPS families and friends,
We hope you and your family are safe tonight. We wish to express our deep gratitude to the first responders, public safety personnel and everyday citizens who stepped in to help today at the Boston Marathon.
Many of you have questions about how to talk to your children about today's events. Below, please find resources from the National Association of School Psychologists, which has prepared tipsheets for parents and teachers to help children, teenagers and adults cope with tragic situations.
Among their professional advice (from the NASP website):
Remain calm and reassuring. Children will take their cues from you, especially young children. Acknowledge that the threats and uncertainty are unnerving but the likelihood is that you and your children or students will be okay. There is a difference between the possibility of danger and the probability of it affecting them personally.
Acknowledge and normalize their feelings. Allow children to discuss their feelings and concerns and encourage any questions they may have regarding this event. Listen and empathize. An empathetic listener is very important. Let them know that others are feeling the same way and that their reactions are normal and expected.
Take care of your own needs. Take time for yourself and try to deal with your own reactions to the situation as fully as possible. You will be better able to help your children if you are coping well. If you are anxious or upset, your children are more likely to be so as well. Talk to other adults such as family, friends, faith leaders, or a counselor. It is important not to dwell on your fears by yourself. Sharing feelings with others often makes us feel more connected and secure. Take care of your physical health. Make time, however small, to do things you enjoy.
Turn off or monitor the television. It is important to stay informed, but watching endless news programs is likely to heighten your anxiety and that of your children or students. Young children in particular cannot distinguish between images on T.V. and their personal reality. Older children may want to watch the news, but be available to discuss what they see and help put it into perspective.
Discuss events in age-appropriate terms. Share information that is appropriate to their age and developmental level. Update them as information changes. Young children may require repeated reassurance during the day. Tell them they are okay and that adults will always take care of them. School age children can understand details and reasons behind specific actions, such as increased security but cannot absorb intense or frightening information. Adolescents may want to discuss issues related to terrorism or war as well as safety issues.Stick to the facts. Answer children's questions factually and include a positive element to answer, e.g., "Yes we are on high alert, but we have been here before. It does not mean that something bad will definitely happen." "Yes, there are more armed guards on our streets, but they are there to protect us." Don't speculate about what could happen. The NASP has also created a website to help parents and teachers learn ways to talk to children about unsettling situations. Click here to visit it. There are also fact sheets for parents available in other languages. Please feel free to share them with families who may find them helpful:
We also recommend our educators visit the NASP Crisis Resources page for more information.
We hope you can limit the amount of news coverage children see on television and the web during this vacation week. Above all, please keep the families of those who were involved today in your thoughts and prayers. We hope you will also reflect on the many men and women who immediately stepped in to help. Our city is full of heroes and we are thankful for every one -- and we are thankful for you, too. We look forward to seeing you back at school next week.
Carol R. Johnson