Helping children (and families) feel less helpless after tragedy

One of the most frightening aspects of Monday’s bombings in Boston was the unexpected shock. Now, as the city begins to heal, we’re slowly beginning to process everything that’s happened, and turning to our neighbors for support.

The loss of life and physical injuries are tragic. The damage to area businesses is costly. But the impact on our sense of safety is harder to quantify. How can we ever truly protect ourselves from a phantom enemy we can’t see or understand the motives of? Worse still, how can we protect our family from it?

“Random attacks like Monday’s bombings can be very difficult to process emotionally because there is no way to truly prepare for them. It can make anyone feel helpless,” says Roslyn Murov, MD, Director of Outpatient Psychiatry Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. “When people feel like there is nothing they can do to make things better, it’s a very upsetting and powerful emotion.”

Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee our children a world where these types of attacks will never happen again. But, with a little effort, we can help them regain a sense of control in the aftermath.

To do so, Murov suggests taking part in family-centered activities that help those touched by tragedy. Allow your children to be immersed in the healing process with others by bringing them to a gathering that celebrates the memories of the victims or have them join you at an event like a walk-a-thon. These steps may help alleviate feelings of isolation. (Depending on how your child reacted to the attacks, Murov says it may be a good idea to stick to gatherings where your child will know many of the participants, like a church or school function. Events with too many strangers could be upsetting.)

Likewise, you may ask your children if they’d be willing to donate a portion of their allowance to a relief effort—or have them come with you to make a donation—and explain in detail how the money will go on to help those in need.

“No matter what, kids need to understand that most people in this world are good and would never want to hurt them.”

“Even young children are capable of empathy,” says Murov. “By directly incorporating kids in healing efforts, they can see that even though they’re small, they can still do something to make the world a better place. That positive sense of self can go a long way in making them feel less overwhelmed by fear or sadness.”

Regardless of how you decide to help your children process this week’s events, the most important lesson we can teach them is that most people are good. Clearly, a handful of individuals are capable of evil, but they are a very small minority when compared to the population-at-large. When talking to your children about the attacks, be sure to mention all the men and women who rushed to help, and continue to do so through charitable funds, peace rallies and other events. By involving children in these events and activities, which are so focused on helping, it will reinforce the idea that there is so much good in the world, and they are direct part of it.

“No matter what, kids need to understand that most people in this world are good and would never want to hurt them,” says Murov. “After an event like the Marathon bombings, including children in the healing process and showing them how communities come together to overcome the bad things some people do is a great first step in helping them feel safer.”

Financial donations can be made to the One Fund Boston, a government sanctioned charitable fund to help the people most affected by bombings. 

The following is a list of family-friendly events dedicated to helping Bostonians heal. For similar events happening in your area, consult your local Red Cross.

Thursday, 4/18

Andover: Unitarian Universalist Congregation

7 p.m.

Click for more info.

Framingham: Steps of the Memorial Building, 150 Concord St.

7:15 p.m.

Town-wide vigil to honor and remember the deceased and injured spectators and runners of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.  Also to recognize and honor all the police/fire/EMS and civilians who ran into the chaos to help render immediate medical attention and help save lives. All are invited to come together as a community and show support for the victims of Monday’s tragic events.

Salem: Salem Common

6:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

Salem Stands With Boston – With “Last Mile” run at 6:45 p.m. and candlelight vigil at 7:15 p.m.

Click for more info.

Boston: Meditation Fundraiser at Back Bay Yoga

7:30 p.m.

One hour meditation class with all proceeds going towards One Fund

Somerville: Candlelight Vigil in Somerville at City Hall / Somerville High School Concourse, 93 Highland Ave.

7:45 p.m.

Danvers: United Methodist Church

Thursday & Friday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The church will be open for those who would seek a place of peace and prayer

Friday, 4/19

Newton: Boston Marathon: The Last 5 starting at Boston College

4:30 p.m.

Boston College students organized this event in which participants can walk the last five miles of the Boston Marathon route to pay tribute to those affected by the bombings

Burlington: Temple Shalom Emeth

7:30 p.m.

Shabbat service conducted by Rabbi Abramson and Cantorial Soloist Ben Silver will contain prayers and reflections on this tragedy

North Reading: Trinity Evangelical Church, 105 Haverhill St.

7 p.m.

Prayer vigil. Click for more info.

Saturday, 4/20

Melrose: Clarence DeMar Memorial at Ell Pond Park

9 a.m.

Ceremony, wreath laying. Click for more info.

Westborough: Congregational Church of Westborough

4:30 p.m.

A service of mediation and remembrance. Click for more info.

Sunday, 4/21

Newton: Storyheights Church, 400 Heath St.

10:30 a.m.

Regular service we will be honoring those lost and hurt:

Boston: Studio 216, 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston Marathon Collaborative Healing Art Piece

12 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Skye Schulte is opening her art studio on Sunday afternoon, inviting anyone to come express their thoughts on a large canvas.

Monday, 4/22

Weymouth: East Weymouth, Immaculate Conception Parish 

7 p.m.