"Mommy, why are those people crying?" asked my 7-year-old daughter as she entered the room while I was watching coverage of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. She had been in the back of the house playing, and I didn't hear her creep into the room. I panicked. I didn't know what to say or to do. I had made a conscious decision to keep her life—for now—uninterrupted by tragedy, at least while I can. Yes, I'm sheltering her from the evils of the world, but isn't that my job as a mom?
As she stared at the screen, trying to make sense of what happened, I was struck by the nagging feeling of being on the proverbial fence. Do I tell her what happened? Or do I just switch the channel to Phineas and Ferb as quickly as possible?
I did a little of both. I turned the channel and said, "Oh, I was just watching a sad thing that happened in Boston. Someone very bad hurt some people there." Then channeling that Mr. Rogers quote that has been making the rounds, I spoke to her about all the great people that had rushed to help those injured and that the police would hopefully catch the bad guy(s) soon. She listened, nodded and seemed completely fine. Mommy had explained it, gave it a positive spin, and told her—although not in so many words—that everything was going to be OK. We both survived.
I was not ready to have her exposed to life's cruelties quite yet, but this brought up the question of when. When, and at what age, do we talk to our children about tragedies great and small?
"Depending on their age and level of maturity, children will perceive things differently than adults," the Child Development Institute writes. "Remember with younger children (up to 9 years old) to be uncomplicated in your explanations without going into gory details, especially if the tragedy is extremely unpleasant. Be supportive and reassuring during your discussion. Older children will be able to handle more information."
Dr. Paul Coleman, author of How to Say It to Your Child When Bad Things Happen says to wait to discuss tragic events with your child until they are around age 7, and only if they bring it up first. He advises, "They might see it on TV or hear about it at school (or heaven forbid even witness it), and then you have to deal with it. But younger children might not be able to handle it well."
iVillage consulted with Dr. Russell T. Jones and created a breakdown by age of how to talk to kids about events like the Boston Marathon bombings. This was reassuring. For my elementary age daughter I should "be honest," and "emphasize the good over the bad." Both of which I did.
But we all know, not all kids are created equal. As a parent you will be the one (hopefully) to know, or more likely, sense, when they are ready to be able to emotionally handle the cruel acts that plague our world. For now it is our job to, as the poster says, "keep calm and carry on." And so I will.