"Mother consoling daughter"

This week’s bombing at the Boston Marathon marks another tragic event in our nation’s recent history. At EDC’s headquarters just outside of Boston, we feel particularly connected to and concerned about this tragedy—not just because of the close physical proximity to our office, but also due to the nature of the attack. While the details are still emerging, we do know that the bombing occurred on public streets and affected many young victims who were with their parents or family members—those with whom children should feel safe and protected.

How do events like this alter children’s sense of security? How can we ensure that our children view their community as a safe place—a place where they feel secure enough to explore and thrive despite challenging circumstances?

"[Resiliency is] the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress. — American Psychological Association



This tragedy demonstrates that the answers to how we as a nation can best protect our children are often difficult to come by and do not always lie in policy alone. Now is the time to comfort and reassure our children, who may be struggling with fear and anxiety. Now is the time to focus on building our children’s resiliency and fostering the coping skills that will help them thrive in an increasingly uncertain world.

Resiliency, or “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress” as described by the American Psychological Association, can help children “bounce back” in the hours and days immediately following a traumatic event while also increasing the likelihood that they respond to challenging circumstances constructively in the future. Since resiliency focuses on feelings, behaviors, and beliefs, this is a skill that children can develop—and adults can support children in this process.

An article prepared by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) describes four key areas where adults can help children foster resiliency, along with tips on how to do so:

  • Attitudes and emotions: When children have a positive attitude, they tend to be more optimistic and maintain a stronger sense of power, purpose, and self-efficacy than those with a more negative outlook. In terms of emotions, children who learn empathy and forgiveness are less likely to carry feelings of anger and resentment. Parents and caregivers can encourage positivity in both attitudes and emotions by offering encouragement to children throughout the day, responding and being sensitive to their individual emotional needs, and reinforcing appropriate emotional responses to a stressful situation. 
  • Competence: Feeling capable in various areas of life, both in the classroom and outside of school, can give children the confidence to face adversity. As NASP suggest, adults can help children develop competence by helping them with homework and seeing that they attend school regularly. Additionally, nurturing a child’s talents through athletics, music, art, or other activities can also help provide a sense of competence.
  • Social competency: Friends are an important component of resiliency. Friends help foster the ability to create emotional attachments, which can give children a sense of stability that exists outside of their immediate family. Friendships also give children the opportunity to learn about the importance of helping and being considerate of others, while building a network of support to help children through difficult times. Adults should ensure that children are given opportunities to maintain friendships over time and even encourage children to stay in contact with friends who move away.
  • Physical health: When a child is healthy, he or she is better poised to have positive mental health and to be resilient. According to NASP, certain foods, including milk, nuts, and vegetables, support neurological development. NASP adds that eating breakfast has been shown to improve school performance, which also contributes to resiliency. Adults can help children achieve good physical health by providing them with opportunities to exercise, ensuring that they get sufficient sleep throughout their childhood, and seeing that children receive regular check-ups and routine screenings to monitor for vision and hearing problems.

While these strategies for building resilience are important to keep in mind over time, we also recognize that children will likely have specific concerns and questions about what happened in Boston. Generally, the best approach when talking with children about a tragic occurrence is to stick to the facts, hold strong emotions in check, and above all, reassure children that they are safe.

Please refer to our Crisis Preparedness, Reponses, and Recovery Resource Center for more information on how to talk to children about the bombing at the Boston Marathon and other traumatic events.

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