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“Mom, what happened?”
My eleven year old son’s curiosity was peaked when seeing my emotional and very teary eyed face yesterday afternoon as I watched the Boston Marathon bombing coverage on my lap top. Looking up at him, I realized I had to tell him something simply because I didn’t want him to have it explained by someone else at his school the next day. Up until this point, he really had not a single clue as to what had happened other than my obviously distraught demeanor.
See, I was on my laptop. I also had my ear buds in. This mom likes to keep tragic news and graphic imagery under wraps from kids until answers are to be had. I do not condone keeping children up to the same pace as the rest of the world unless their safety immediately depends on it. So, here I am with my eldest son wanting answers and there really weren’t any answers yet. What do I say? What do I show him?
Obviously, I told him what happened. Explosions at a world famous running event in Massachusetts. Many, many, many people were hurt, some were killed. They don’t know who did it yet, but law enforcement was on it. Then, the next morning, he is on his way to school and I told him that if the school shows any news coverage with graphic pictures, I want to know about it. He has seen 9/11 images at school, which I am not pleased about. So I told him to not watch until he got home and let them know he does not have permission to watch news coverage of the event.
I also decided to warn him about what people might be saying. Where I live, many people are prejudiced against those outside a European heritage. Phrases like “We should just kill ’em all” is tossed around a lot, and I do my best to make sure that my children understand the problem with that type of attitude and judgement against others and their faith or cultural observances.
I related that some news outlets were saying it was someone of Middle Eastern descent which in turn might mean he has friends running their mouths about people of the same heritage. I emphasized not only how wrong this type of stereotyping is, but it can be dangerous. I recounted some episodes of violence against Sikhs after 9/11 because folks were too ignorant to know the difference between cultures religious beliefs, let alone that they shouldn’t blame all for the actions of a few. Of course he immediately agreed and identified with what I was saying. I also made it clear if anyone was joking about the bombings, or joking about how funny it would be if the school were destroyed, that he should get away from those kids and report it to a teacher immediately.
After this ten minute or so discussion, he asked me just how bad did it end up being. So, I opted to show him a couple photos. One of the explosion plume, and another of the now empty, blood soaked sidewalk. That was enough and clearly made him understand the gravity of the situation. I also explained that there was a mass bombing event across Iraq that same day, and scores were hurt and injured. So again, if he heard anyone running their mouth about any type of racial stereotypes he was really going to give them hell for it.
This is the kind of communication I have with all my children on varying degrees of information. I think it encourages empathy, a big picture outlook about the world they are a member of, and that regardless of how scary the world is, it is not the majority of experience. I completely discourage trying to smooth over their feelings with “They are in a better place now” and flip the channel to a cartoon.
Then they had a bomb threat later that morning at the school… Oy…