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Boston Marathon bombings: tips for calming kids' fears after tragedies

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A 9/11 widow helped create the lesson plans after her own children had a middle-school teacher who pointed out one page in a textbook about the attacks when the anniversary rolled around, but seemed too uncomfortable to talk about it with her students, Ms. Gaffney says.

For older children and teens, “ask them what they are worried about,” and rather than try to talk them out of negative feelings such as sadness or fear, talk through “how you manage them, how you cope,” says David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Older kids may ask “more sophisticated questions and want to know your take on things," Beresin says. "You can even watch the news with older teens and say, ‘What do you make of this?’ ” Kids may be nervous about attending a sporting event, or they may hear that bags are being searched at certain locations and assume that means a threat is there, and adults can help calm such fears once they’ve heard what’s really on their minds, he says.

But don’t be surprised, he adds, if they talk more while engaged in an activity: Sometimes that’s more comfortable than a talk sitting down face to face.

Gaffney sometimes hears school administrators say they’re not in the mental-health business, “but in fact teachers are first responders” when communities are affected by terrorism, so “we have to give them support and the language,” she says.

In Boston, schools and partnering mental-health professionals have been working during students’ vacation week to prepare for schools to restart Monday. Trained crisis counselors have already been on hand to assist schools more directly affected by the marathon bombing, says Andria Amador, assistant director of behavioral health services, including the Neighborhood House Charter School, where people are mourning the death of third-grader Martin Richard.

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