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When Bad Things Happen to Good People: Explaining Tragedy To Your Kids

It's becoming a natural part of our parenting landscape.

A human tragedy strikes. Sometimes it's a natural disaster. Other times it's at the hands of a fellow human being.

From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook Elementary School to yesterday's Boston Marathon tragedy, my role as a parent has changed in the wake of these events. I have shifted from being a carefree, happy-go-lucky mother to being constantly worried about the safety of my children in everyday, normal situations. At school, at the park, at a sporting event. Where are our children safe? Where are we safe?

Last night when I should have been making dinner and helping my daughters with their homework, I was instead struggling to explain to them the bombing in Boston. As I coped with my own feelings of confusion and heartbreak, I was making every attempt to give them the information they needed to know. I tried to compose myself so that they couldn't see my fear and grief. At the same time, I wanted them to know that I was sharing their fears and concerns.

As I sat there grappling with what to say and how to say it, I realized that I've done this too often lately. I've made this "speech" too many times in the past 6 months. I've become skilled at something I never wanted to master.

But it has become a necessary evil in our world. And if we must talk to our children about such tragedies, we need to get it right. There is a right way to do it, and a definite wrong way to broach the subject with your children mindfully and tactfully.

As soon as my conversation with my girls ended, I wrote down some tips for explaining tragedy to your children that might be helpful in the days ahead as we come to terms with the events and as more information unfolds.

1. Be the first person to tell your children. Do not let them hear information from other children at school. If we've learned anything from the talk on the school yard, we know that it can be anything but accurate.

2. Be honest with your children. Give them a truthful but abbreviated version of events. Make sure what you say is age-appropriate and practical. The last thing you want to do is instill unnecessary fear in your children.

3. Emphasize that there are still so many more good people in this world than bad. Point out the number of people who help in a disaster: police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, and civilians who show courage in helping others.

4. Allow your children to ask questions.They are likely to have questions in the days, even weeks after a tragic event. As they process what happened and hear more about it from friends, encourage them to come to you with any questions.

5. Give them a sense of safety and security. Let them know that they are loved and that you are there to protect them from harm. While that may not always be possible, you will do everything you can to make it happen.

Our goal is to give our children the right perspective and to keep it real. Choose your words carefully, and share your own feelings with your children. Let them know they aren't alone, and lastly, find comfort in each other.

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