Boston bombings: helping children cope

Traumatising footage ...
Traumatising footage ... 

With the recent events in Boston capturing world attention and others clamouring for the same media saturation, it is getting harder to shield children from distressing world events. Here's what you can do to help them cope.

With the recent events in Boston capturing world attention and others clamouring for the same media saturation, it is getting harder to shield children from distressing world events.

It is even harder for children who are still developing critical skills to assess what they see on television in the home, hear on the radio in the car or read on relentless social media.

In fact, this intense media focus on unfolding news events like the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt can be traumatising for children. Recent studies from the University of Oklahoma have shown that children with unfettered exposure to news during these events can have a negative impact for children and in some cases lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This includes children with no ties to the actual even other than seeing media reports.

It's little wonder why these events can upset children who are still learning about the world and sorting out what is predictable behaviour. With 24 hour news cycles and streaming visceral images and updates, children (as well as parents) would be forgiven for thinking such violence was par for the course and even liable to happen to them at any time. The world is allegedly safer than ever before - but this is not an oft-shared argument.

Here’s how to help your children cope with shocking events:

Reduce media noise:

Resist the temptation to monitor unfolding situations with radio, television, tablet, smart phone or newspapers in front of children. Avoid any graphic news footage as it is most likely to cause distress and confusion for some children (not to mention some parents as well).

If you can’t switch off the tv try to change the station to one that doesn’t feature news updates or put on a film.

Talk with them:


If they already know, discuss the event with your children. What do they know and how do they feel about the event? Give gentle and accurate responses about what you know about the event and how it makes you feel. Let them share their feelings and only interject to ask questions or correct incorrect statements.

Watch what you say around them:

We can often forget that children are one of nature’s greatest eavesdroppers and when they know something big is happening, they are more likely to want to listen into your conversation. If you are attempting to shield them from events in the news, be careful who you discuss the news with as, in those unguarded moment, you could undo all your work. 

Media skills:

With constantly changing facts and editorials appearing in media after a traumatic event, helping your children critically analyse news reports can help them gain greater perspective. Help them understand the language and techniques used by media to convey emotions such as fear and sadness.

This also includes social media, where wild leaps of logic and whisper can stretch a news event into scary and strange territory. Ask your children what they may have seen on social media and how they can critically assess what others may report as fact. This can involve considering the source (authorities) and weighing up the need for the earliest news against the most reliable.


If recent events have unsettled your kids, they may exhibit signs of distress – poor concentration, moodiness, altered appetite, not wanting to leave your side or disrupted sleep. Be gentle and patient with them during this time and give them all the love they need as they settle. Should things persist, consult with your GP for assistance.


Events like Boston can change how kids feel about society and people. It is important at times like these to let them know stories about those who have helped and the people who work to either find ‘the bad guys’ or the rare nature of these crimes or events. Letting them know how governments, people and organisations help others in times of distress can help counteract any feelings of vulnerability.


There are times when we feel the need to do something before we can feel better about a situation or event, like the runners at the Boston Marathon who kept running to the hospital to donate blood.

Naturally the situation will be different for your children. Some children can feel they are contributing to a better world by donating money to a cause or person. Often charities and trusts are opened in the wake of such events, though Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières are always worthy recipients. Helping children their age may be a priority for your kids and the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation or Unicef are grateful options. Sending letters of support to people they know or have heard of through the news is also of benefit for everyone involved.

Looking for the positives in a time of shock or violence isn’t a weakness. In fact, it can strengthen and brighten a person’s resolve to see the situation in a more reasoned light.

Mr Rogers, a beloved children’s tv host and educator, famously said “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.”

Let your children help in some way. It will help them and others.