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How to talk to kids (and especially adults) about the Boston Marathon bombings: Try Mr. Rogers

A woman talks on the phone after two explosions interrupted the running of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013. Two bombs ripped through the crowd at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing two people and injuring dozens in what a White House official said would be handled as an "act of terror."


Parents can be forgiven if it feels like they've done it before – and more than once – during the past year.

After two explosions rocked the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon leaving a reported three dead, including an eight-year-old boy, moms and dads are left to deal with the effects of yet another large-scale tragedy on their children – and perhaps themselves.

Since the 2012 shootings at the Eaton Centre in Toronto, a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., and at a school in Newtown, Conn., the scripts for talking to kids may very well already be bookmarked.

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Of course, one parenting option is to shelter children from the event. As Teresa, a mother of two from Los Angeles, told "My girls are 8 and 5. They don't know anything about what happened in Boston today, and I plan to keep it that way if I can. The innocence of childhood only lasts so long."

If you choose to engage your child, a good starting point is this exhaustive list of advice from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Pyschiatry. As CBS Boston reports, these may be the most useful points to remember in conversations with your son or daughter this week:

  • Listen to them. Give them a time and place to ask questions – don’t force the conversation until they are ready. In some situations, children may be more comfortable expressing themselves through drawing, writing or playing, and that’s okay too.
  • Answer their questions. You should use words and concepts they understand. Make your explanation age-appropriate, and don’t overexplain. Like always, keep in mind children usually know when you’re being dishonest.
  • Control the television. You should limit the violent images that your child sees of the event, as they can be disturbing.
  • Let kids be kids. Some children may not want to discuss the event, and you should let them be.
  • Lead by example. Children learn from their parents, and they will be interested in how you respond to the event in conversation with other adults.

For certain Canadian parents, that last bullet point may be the toughest one to remember this time around. Where this attack differs ever so slightly from the horrific shootings that hit North America in 2012 is that, literally, it could have been you at the finish line. As more Canadians take up running recreationally, who's to say you wouldn't one day see yourself in Boston at one of running's most prestigious events?

If you aren't a runner yourself, it likely wasn't very hard to find a friend or co-worker who was one of the reported 2,078 Canadians who competed in Boston, or knew someone that did. Within minutes of the tragedy, I read on Facebook that a cousin's boss had been transported away from the race route by Boston police, and various friends in the running community were already sending their digital prayers to partners and club mates.

I found myself thinking I was only lucky that my connection to the events wasn't one degree closer. (Reports this morning say Foreign Affairs confirms no Canadians were hurt.) It was a shock to realize that the explosions were timed to the marathon pace of an average runner, which fits the description of, well, nearly every runner I know.

And when thoughts turn to the eight-year-old victim, it's hard to ignore the heart-wrenching stories of families that joined their mother, father, wife, husband, son or daughter in Boston to cheer them on, only to be pulled into what U.S. White House officials have told reporters were "acts of terror."

So it's no surprise that, amid the news reports and parenting tips, adults themselves have been looking for solace after the bombings. And purely of my own recommendation here, why not share and discuss with your children some of the more moving words that have been shared on social media?

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Comedian Patton Oswalt struck a defiant chord with a posting on his Facebook page. In a message that's been shared and liked over 400,000 times, he praised the efforts of first responders who chose to run toward the explosions to help out. Ignoring his one F-bomb, he eloquently wrote: "When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.' "

Perhaps fittingly, for parents, one of the most-shared quotes yesterday was one taken from Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fame: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' "

The Huffington Post reports that the Mister Rogers quote also made the social-media rounds during the Newtown shootings last year. Hopefully we won't have to bookmark it ever again.

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