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Child Caring

Child's post-Marathon fears bubbling up

Dear Barbara,
I hope you can answer this quickly!!
In the wake of the Marathon bombings, our 9 year-old son has told us that he "absolutely will not go" to Red Sox games. We always go to at least one afternoon game with my dad and my wife's dad and my two other children, one younger, one older, all sons, it's a boys' day out. The middle boy, I'll cal him T, announced this at dinner, in front of his sibs on Wed night. There was an immediate hush at the table. My wife and I were both stricken, I have to admit. (The conversation, btw, had not been about the Marathon or about the Red Sox. He said this out of the blue.) The first one to speak was the oldest (13) who said, "No way am I letting these jerks stop me from having fun." Pause. "Right, dad?" The youngest (7) typically takes his cues from his oldest brother and said, "Yeah!" But they all looked at me.
Honestly, my wife and I had already been thinking about this. Even though we know, intellectually we can't let fear rule our lives, who can say what's right for any given family? Our job is to protect our children!
The conversation shifted, the meal went on, but my wife and I know this will come up again. T is a quiet boy, he's cautious, not fearful, but tenacious and more serious.
Please, I'd like your thoughts. BTW, both grandfathers have already said, over the phone so not in front of the boys, life goes on, don't even think about us not going to our game. Hmm. Now that I type that, maybe they are projecting my reaction? Maybe I've projected that onto T?
What to do?!
From: Peter, west of Boston.

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Dear Peter,
I'm sure there are many, many parents having the exact same thoughts. How do we protect our children in a world with so much random violence?
Each child is different, as you've already indicated, and each child is going to process Monday's events in his or her own unique ways, over the course of weeks and months, not just days. All parents need to be prepared for the subject to come up out of the blue, as you said, although it won't be out of the blue for the kid; there will be some context, you just might not know what it is. T probably heard kids talking at school or on the bus and, being a worrier, he put the facts together and came to this conclusion. Similarly, your oldest is probably reflecting what he's heard, too: We've gotta be strong!
My advice is to have a private conversation with T. Tell him you understand his concerns, that your job is to keep your children and family safe, and that you will do some research about how security is being increased at Fenway, because city officials want to make sure people are safe, too. After that, you'll make your decision because you won't take your children there, or anywhere, unless you think it's safe enough. (It's important not to promise or guarantee; none of us can do that.) But you can promise him he doesn't have to go if he doesn't want to, even if the rest of the family goes. Stress that you trust the police and security and government officials to do their best to keep everyone safe. Try and leave the conversation at a point where you both agree to rethink when the time comes. Then, when appropriate, recap the conversation with the family together.
Now T doesn't have to worry and get anxious about this over the next bunch of weeks or months; he can change his mind without embarrassment; and everyone knows that you take each child's concerns seriously. They also know that you have faith in the system and that you take seriously your responsibility to keep them safe. My colleague, pediatrician Claire McCarthy, talked about this in her blog this week.
Do all this even if you aren't so sure right now about safety. Things are going to evolve, including your feelings.
One of the toughest parts of being a parent in this particular time and place is that we need to project a sense of safety and security to our children even when we don't feel safe and secure ourselves. We can't pretend the Marathon bombings didn't happen, or that an 8-year-old boy, and two other people, didn't die. We can't pretend this isn't a big deal. Children, especially children like T who are anxious by nature, need us to acknowledge the facts. They also need to know that we are doing everything possible to keep them safe. By "we," I don't just mean mom and dad, but everyone from the president on down. That helps allay their fears. What will also help T will be hearing about the new safety precautions the city puts into place, whatever they will be. Present them casually, "Oh by the way, did you hear....."
Did some of your fears rub off on your son? Is some of this genetic? Possibly. Probably. There's something else to be aware of: this came pretty quickly on the heels of Newtown. Because both events involved children, some kids may connect them in that magical way of thinking that they have. It makes it even more important to project a sense of safety.