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Helping kids cope with tragedy in Boston

LA CROSSE, Wis. - As more details unfold in the explosions during the Boston Marathon, it can be difficult for children to process what is happening.

Judy Swift's students at North Woods International Elementary school in La Crosse wanted to start class off a little differently.

"They said, ‘Mrs. Swift, did you hear the news about Boston?' And I said yes, yes I did. Let's talk about that," said Swift.

As both a parent and a teacher, Swift said it's hard to find the right things to say to children about such a tragic event.

"They look at that in society and they're like, ‘Why does something like that happen?'" she said. "So it is difficult because I can't explain why something like that would happen."


Karen Morken works as a clinical therapist and professional counselor at Mayo Clinic Health System.

She said tragedies like the one in Boston affect every child differently, and it's important for adults to be supportive and listen to what kids have to say.

"The best thing for parents to do is to answer their questions as succinctly and as truthfully as they can, but not embellish and not add to it," said Morken. "[Do] not add to their anxiety by asking, ‘Are you worried? Are you scared? What's going on with you?' Let the child bring it to you."

Morken also said it's important not to pressure children if they aren't ready to talk.

She adds parents should remember how they react plays a big part in how their children react.

"Most kids follow what their parents are doing," said Morken. "They take their cues from their parents so it's very important to keep a pulse on how they're reacting and responding."

Swift found inspiration for her classroom conversation through a quote she saw on Facebook.

"We talked about Fred Rogers' quote about when something like this happens, we need to look for the positive and the helpers, and who is helping and look at how many people are helping," said Morken.

By focusing the conversation on the police, the paramedics and the people watching who rushed to help those injured, she hopes her students will one day be positive role models too.

"I'm hoping that they become the positives, and they're going to be compassionate and persevere during hard times," said Morken.

Morken said the tragedy could be more upsetting for children who have experienced any sort of traumatic event their past.

She said it may be a good idea for those parents to try and limit how much their children see and hear about the tragedy to prevent them from becoming re-traumatized.

Morken advises parents to look for changes in their children's behavior that weren't there before including irritability, anxiety or bad dreams.

If talking to children doesn't seem to help and their behaviors last more than a couple of weeks, it may be time to look into professional help.

The National Association of School Psychologists offers more tips for parents on their website.

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