Parents: How to Talk To Kids About the Boston Bombings

Some advice during inexplicable times.

One of the joys of parenting is seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Years ago, my daughter told me I was the best mother in the “Whole Wide Weird.” More recently, she asked, “How do you know if someone is mean on the inside or nice on the inside?” Such uncensored wisdom reminds us of the childlike joy and innocence we all eventually leave behind.

One of the saddest things about parenting is watching your children lose that innocence. Adults rushed to the stage after the Boston bombings, filling the airwaves, newspapers, and websites with news of the horror that met runners, their families, and other onlookers at the finish line. Every parent I know became consumed, silently scanning their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and news sites as their children played or slept or read.

In our house, the laughter of my daughter and her friend in the playroom and the sounds of my son and his friend playing basketball out back were pierced by the distant, unending shriek of police and ambulance sirens just across the river. With the kids home from school, there was so much joy in our house yesterday, and yet it was overlaid with so much sadness, like a heavy, invisible blanket.

Late in the afternoon, I found our 10-year-old son in the kitchen, where, lately, he likes to hang out and listen to KISS 108. He looked up at me, confused, and said, “All the stations are playing the same thing.” He pressed the pre-set buttons to demonstrate, and with each click was a man’s voice talking in direct, somber tones—a news conference on the bombings.

I asked him to turn it off, and, repeating, almost verbatim, what I’d told him after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., I said that a terrible thing had happened, that people were hurt badly, and several people had died. I said that we were safe now and the police were searching for the people who did this and would punish them. I told him that this was a rare event and we didn’t have to be afraid.

His eyes clouded behind his wire-rimmed glasses, and I felt a small bit of his innocence fall away again. “Why would someone do that?” he asked, genuinely mystified.

His question is on all of our minds, but the way he posed it seemed different than the way adults ask it. He was genuinely confused, and his utter not-knowing about the darkness in some people’s hearts and the inexplicable rage in their minds helped me somehow. Here I was trying to tell him an awful thing about the grown-up world, and, in his own way, he’d reminded me how wonderful it is to be a kid. I reveled in that moment, borne back to a time when I couldn’t imagine why someone would do such a thing, either.

Parents who need help talking to their kids about yesterday’s bombings will find excellent guidance here and here. And, if you need more, perhaps the best advice of all comes from Mr. Rogers, who bridged the world of children and adults so seamlessly. As he once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ And I found that that’s true. In fact, it’s one of the best things about our wonderful world.”

Thank you, Fred Rogers, for reminding us of the good in people’s hearts and of the wonder in our world.