In the wake of last week’s Boston bombings, many conversations are being held. They ranging from public safety at today’s London Marathon and the upcoming Long Island marathons to calls to reconsider the ongoing immigration reform debate in Washington, D.C. Yet, clearly one of the most important conversations to be had is not with law enforcement officials or politicians. It is with children are impacted by the tragedy.
“Approaching children with information about world events needs your full attention,” explains Steven Birkeland, Education Administrator, Instructional Specialist, Committee on Preschool Special Education with the New York City Department of Education. “First ask the children what they know. When they have provided you with what they know, clarify the truth and answer their questions with honest, truthful information.”
For the children that were at the scene, special care is required to help them process and cope with such a horrific experience. While watching the news on television can be traumatic for children enough, the kids near the finish line not only heard that deafening explosion, but they might have heard the screams and sirens. They could have watched the smoke clear and seen badly injured people yards in front ahead. Combined with what they felt through their remaining senses, they is a good chance that they are overwhelm by more than they can understand.
“Ask then what they saw and what it means to them,” suggests Birkeland.”Comfort them and provide opportunities for it to make sense to them without scaring them and making it impact their every day.”
Birkleland advises that the parents of the friends and classmates of eight year-old victim Martin Richard should help their kids celebrate Martin’s life and reassure them that this won’t happen to them.
Special Education students might require a little more help processing the catastrophe. Extra time and skills are sometimes necessary and vary from child to child. However, it is important to address the situation completely to ensure that the child fully understands.
“When speaking with special education students always make sure they understand what information is being communicated,” explicates Birkleland. “Elaborate when necessary and ask the students to repeat back in their own words what they understand. Clarify when necessary and use specific language addressed to the present functioning level of the child.”
One thing schools should avoid is the classic gathering every student together in the auditorium for discussion.
“Do not approach it as a school wide topic,” instructs Birkeland. “Take the questions as they come and address them with confidence. If students aren’t talking about it, allow the conversation to organically present itself.”
During the aftermath of such horrible events, it is common for parents to look for ways to help their children better deal if there is ever a “next time.” While there is no silver bullet to allow this, the age-old sage wisdom that applies to most aspects of parenting, if not life itself, is best.
“Ensure open lines of communication exist and allow your children to always ask questions,” advises Birkeland.
Feature Photo Credit: Facebook