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A senseless bombing at the end of the infamous Boston Marathon has now forced parents to go to work securing their children that “everything is going to be okay”. After all, the role of a parent is to secure and protect their children. But, how from senseless Terrorist attacks? Whether it’s a terrorist act, an earthquake, a flood, a fire, a death, or any other trauma, the message sent to children is that bad things do happen, but not as often as they fear.
In other words, the first teaching point for the parent is “reality”, not “hysteria”. The target children who will be most effected when a crisis hits are the 4 to 9 year-olds. They are already in the normal fear zone ( i.e. the dark, noises, monsters, etc .) , so, add on a bombing and all emergency mental lights go off in their brains. But, the truth is, they don’t and won’t happen everyday and the chances of being a victim to one of these awful events is still statistically small.
Educating your children that when these traumas or disasters happen, we come together as a Nation and figure out how to make things even safer. It is safe to say that the Boston bombing will certainly lead to greater security in public events.
Emphasizing empathy for the victims helps your child decenter and focus on the need to help others who were less fortunate.
Assure them that you will protect them directly – statements like “we will never let anything or anyone hurt you”, immediately sends relief to your child. You may have to say it a bunch of times, but it will sink in.
Keep them on track. Letting your child regress by not going to school, sleep in your bed, or hide in a closet, will only make them feel worse. When they witness that their day is safe, they will recover faster.
Finally, and most importantly, calm yourself down. Refrain from watching too many News shows covering the graphics. It’s not good for you or your kids to replay disaster and meanness. The unfortunate yet true result of disasters is that it does make us stronger. Without being tested, technology and better ways of dealing with life as we know it would not be possible.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.