"Am I safe Mom or Dad"?! Given the events of Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston, I'm sure many parents are being asked this very question. As a parent, how does one answer this? We want to reassure our children yet don't want to oversimplify the situation and give false information - "you will always be safe from harm."
Here are a few tips to help you along if you are asked this incredibly important question...
Before answering- make sure to use age appropriate language. The answer will have do nothing to calm their fears and anxiety if they don't understand the answer given. Sometimes when unsure of what to say, adults can use words that children don't comprehend in hopes of moving past the question quickly. However, this does not have a positive affect on the child. They are simply confused and their question hasn't been answered. Most importantly they are likely still experiencing what ever emotion prompted them to ask the question in the first place.
Think about your answer beforehand, even if you need to postpone answering for a few minutes, and do not say anything that you, yourself, do not believe. Children are incredibly intuitive and will likely pick up on your disingenuous answer. This can cause them to feel unnecessary anxiety. "If my parent is scared then I need to be too."
Explain the difference between a public, international and televised event and their daily environment. The marathon was targeted because of the above description. Your family is inherently safer simply due to the fact that you are at home going about your normal routine.**
Assure your children that the police and government are doing everything they can to find the alleged perpetrators and keep the citizens of the USA safe.
Keep in Mind...any child that has experienced any type of trauma in the past, something in their life that conveyed the message that the world is not a safe place, are going to be especially prone to anxiety, nervousness and fear. These children may need more reassurance and it may take them longer to feel safe again.
**A word about tip 3...what if your child refers to Newtown CT after hearing this?
Explain that their are people in the world who may do horrible things because they, themselves, feel horrible and they choose the wrong way to deal with it. The teachers and students of Newtown Elementary should have been safe in their "own environment" but they weren't. Again, the police and government are working hard to ensure that this type of incident won't happen again.
Lastly- reassure your child of your love and commitment to keep them safe as their parent!
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved in the attack in Boston and the families of Newtown CT.