Talking About The Boston Marathon Explosions With Kids: Parents Tell Their Stories

Parents in Boston and across the globe are struggling to talk to their children about the bombs that exploded on Monday. What is safe to tell them? What not to say?

Experts have some answers, but the discussions each parent chooses to have is a personal decision. We asked our readers what they and their families chose to talk about. Here are some of their answers, in their own words. Use the comments or email us at to tell us about the conversations at your house.

Tracey Wynne, Arlington, VA

I am a mother of a 6-year-old and 8-year-old. They were off from school yesterday, so I expect that they will come home today with questions. My goal is to give them very basic information about what happened and to assure them that they are safe. I will also take a cue from Mister Rogers and let them know how many people rushed to the aid of those who were hurt. (Thank God for the helpers!)

The toughest part for me is managing my own insecurities about tragedies such as this. I am not a great actress -- it's difficult for me to hide my feelings and anxieties during times such as these. With that in mind, I will certainly be keeping the television off -- for their sake as well as mine.

Michele Brown, San Antonio, TX

Last week, my 6th grader’s school went into lockdown after a man with a toy gun came on campus. My son’s friends saw the man and notified their teacher. The drills they had previously only practiced became something truly unnerving.

The man was subsequently arrested by police. My son later told me he was hiding behind a trash can holding the biggest thing he could find -- his Spanish book -- to “defend himself.” Every little noise was terrifying for him. Thirty minutes later, it was over. Thirty… long… minutes.

When the Newtown shootings took place, I made the mistake of NOT telling my children (I have a 12 year-old and an right year-old). I figured if they did not watch it at home, they were safe. Bad call on my part. They later asked all kinds of questions based on information -- much of it incorrect -- heard from their peers. I kicked myself for not knowing better. But as parents, how in the world do you prepare for THIS?

My son is on edge with the news yesterday. I have worked to make sure he knows enough to be aware but not to terrify him. We did lean into the famous Mr. Rogers comment -- focusing on the helpers. also provided insight yesterday that helped. We told my son, “If you see something, say something” and explained why that is important for MANY circumstances he might come across in life.

I do think my 8-year-old daughter is too young to understand a true impact. As for my son? He seemed okay this morning, but time will tell.

Amy Oztan, Brooklyn, NY

When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon I knew I had to tell my 8-year-old daughter what happened. I hadn’t told her about Newtown. She heard about it at school, and I found out that what she hears first makes a big impression. This time, I kept it simple: there was a big race being run today in Boston, and some very bad people set off some explosions that hurt a lot of people. I assured her that there were lots of people in Boston helping, and other people in New York City (where we live) making sure that we’re safe.

Fiona and I are running a 5K together in June -- her first race. I told her that nothing like that would happen at our race. It doesn’t matter that I can’t possibly know that, I told her anyway. One of her questions surprised me: “Are there any pictures?” I told her that there were, and also videos, because so many people were there waiting for their friends and family members to cross the finish line. She wanted to see them.

When we got home I sat behind Fiona, my hand on the remote, ready to turn the TV off if it looked like anything graphic was coming. She watched the explosions wide-eyed. They interviewed runners in Boston, and (this being local news), they interviewed some people in Brooklyn. By that point Fiona had lost interest and wandered away, to feed her doll and get a snack and be an 8-year-old. I’m watching closely for signs that she’s scared or wants to talk about it more, but so far -- nothing.

Donna Gorman, Amman, Jordan

Because we work at the Embassy here, and because their dad is in charge of security, my kids (ages 4-13) have some experience dealing with this topic. Every time there is an attack on an Embassy somewhere in the world, they know about it, because all of the adults talk about it. And of course they hear their dad on the phone, and they see the protestors, and the tanks in front of the Embassy during particularly trying times. They even know that they, as Americans, are targets.

It saddens me that they have this knowledge in their heads, but what to do? We've had several problems since we've been here, and when they were at the Embassy for a real duck-and-cover, I was relieved to know that they understood the seriousness of the situation and followed the directions.

That said, it was hard to hear my 6-year-old this morning. She misunderstood the conversation and thought our Embassy had been blown up. She wasn't even upset, so much as curious.

Cecelia Wu Tanaka, Chapel Hill, NC

I have a just-turned 9 year old and I told him what I knew. I grew up in the area (now out of state) and his grandparents live 15 minutes away. Boston means so much to me -- my parents immigrated there from China by way of Peru, and Boston made everything possible for us. I couldn't hide my tears and my mood yesterday. If anything, he is the one who consoled me.

Just yesterday morning I was teaching him to use a scale of 1 to 10 to describe his feelings, anything from a cut on his knee to hurt feelings to the temperature of his food. Then when he saw me upset at the news he asked me how I was feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. I said, after some thought, "8…9 and 10 are for those who were there and lived through it, or who got hurt, or who had a family member or friend who got hurt or killed." My son replied, "You said 8 because you grew up there? You can take a 9." He gave me permission to feel a 9.

Michele Chabin, Jerusalem, Israel

When our children were 6 years old we actually got rid of the TV largely to shield them from the nightly news. Then, a little over a year ago, when the kids were 9, the uncle, aunt and three little cousins of one of our twins' classmates were murdered in their home by two Palestinian terrorists.

Their teachers informed the parents the tragedy would be discussed in school the next day. We woke up the kids a bit earlier the next morning and told them the news before school. They wanted to know "How did it happen?" "Could it happen to us?" As parents we tried to reassure them by saying the incident took place far away (actually only a few miles) and that we always take precautions (never touch suspicious objects, for example), and that we believe we are as safe as any human being can be. One of my twins became clingy and insisted, every night, that we lock the front door. He knows the danger is there but he seems to have made peace with it.

Mary Caffrey, Robbinsville, NJ

My eighth-grade son, Bobby, was very upset by yesterday’s bombing. It’s not just the violence, but it’s the marathon too. Bobby is a very talented distance runner, and it’s not a stretch to think that he might run the race someday. We talked about the bombing when I picked him up from track practice, and he asked to watch the coverage with me before he went to his AAU basketball practice. Afterward, he had to get started on an essay about, of all things, the 1963 Birmingham church bombings. I thought about suggesting he connect the two, but he was so upset I kept quiet.

Bobby was tired after basketball and got up early this morning to finish his essay. He asked me to look at it, and I was proud that he talked about the Boston Marathon attack and wrote that when bombers act they do so not just to do damage, but also to create fear. We talked about whether the Ku Klux Klan were “terrorists,” and he had never thought about applying that term to them. As he considered it, he agreed that the Klan were terrorists just like the modern-day kind.

In 50 years, I pray my great-grandchildren will write an essay about what the Boston Marathon bombing meant, and the idea that it could happen again will be just as unthinkable.