Stories about: Talking to your children about bin Laden’s death

Why I'm not talking to my 5-year-old about Osama bin Laden

Yesterday, Doctor Roslyn Murov offered advice to parents looking to explain to their children the many emotions adults are feeling after bin Laden’s death. Today, Doctor Claire provides a different perspective.

Ever since I got up Monday morning and saw the newspaper, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say to my two youngest children about the death of Osama bin Laden.

The fact that someone was killed on purpose, and that so many people are celebrating it, goes against so many things we’ve been teaching them. This one is tough. It was only after many hours of thinking that I came to a decision.

We aren’t going to say anything at all.

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Talking to your children about the death of Osama bin Laden

People celebrate the news of bin Laden's death in New York. Image: flickr/NYCMarines

This morning, millions of Americans watched on TV, as crowds of revelers amassed in New York to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. For many adults, bin Laden’s passing is likely to bring up conflicting emotions like relief and joy, as well as somber remembrance. But how will children respond to the public celebration of death? It’s been years since bin Laden has been featured regularly on nightly news broadcasts, and most people under the age of 10 are likely to know very little, if anything, about the leader of Al Qaeda. How will they process groups of adults celebrating his death, without fully understanding the extent of his crimes? To learn more about how coverage of bin Laden’s death may potentially affect children, as well as get tips for how parents can address the subject with their families, I spoke with Roslyn Murov, MD, a pediatrician and director of Human Services at Martha Eliot Health Center, who also acted as a child psychiatry liaison at Children’s Hospital Boston at one point in her career. Murov, her husband and their son were living in New York City when the Twin Towers were attacked, and says the news of bin Laden’s death was very emotional for her and her family.

In your opinion, how do you think media coverage surrounding bin Laden’s death may affect younger children?

Everyone is going to interpert this news differently, but as a rule I don’t think it’s a good idea for young children to be overexposed to people openly celebrating death. I would advise parents to be wary of that when talking to their kids about the news coverage around bin Laden. Depending on the child’s understanding of death as a concept, it may be hard for them to internalize why some deaths are tragic and this is seen as a happy event by some people. I was struck by how some 9/11 survivors said they felt a sense of relief that a person capable of such violence was no longer around. That sense of relief may be the message I would try to communicate with children who are seeing all this coverage.

What advice do you have for parents who want to talk to their children about bin Laden and the news coverage but aren’t sure how?

It’s important for parents to control what their younger children are seeing in terms of news coverage, so they are available to answer any questions the child may have, like who bin Laden was and what he had done. For events like this I think a good approach is to give the child a little information at first, then continue to answer their questions directly as the child processes everything. Children usually will stop asking when they’ve heard all they want know, so by providing a small bit of information, and then building their knowledge one question at a time, parents can help inform their children without giving them more information than they are ready for.

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