Keep it age appropriate, however, she said. Depending on the child, you may not need to go into political beliefs of radicals, the specific injuries suffered at the marathon or the various nations and groups who want to harm American citizens.
And remember how different children can be, Thomas said. Her son, who is 14, had some questions about the Boston attack. Her fourth-grade daughter never brought the subject up.
"[Whatever] their age, you respond in a supportive, nurturing manner, and remember, they look to us for cues," Thomas said. "You want to respect the fact they're asking questions."
To discuss a negative situation, it may be helpful to talk about it threaded with the positive things that are happening. Pulling out the things that went well when everything else seems to be going wrong, said the psychologist, is a good life skill.
"Yes, there are people out there who do things that are terrible, and that makes me sad," could make a good starting point, she said, "but talk about the good things as well. [Some in] the media are talking to the first responders who helped at the race and how [as a community] they’re moving forward."
Those calm, factual reports are helpful to kids and to the emergency workers who want to learn from the tragedy.
Some knowledge gained by emergency responders will come from official “after action” reports. But the bulk of information, including background and general atmosphere of an incident, come from more common sources.
“In most cases, our knowledge comes from the media,” Calnon said, “and I want to be careful how I say this. Basically, the media has a tendency to sensationalize. This very critical event in Boston needs to be covered, I won’t argue that. It was very serious, it cost lives and injuries. But there’s a difference between giving a report and sensationalizing.”
He can hear the difference from when an announcer is reporting facts compared to when announcers play on fear to draw viewers or to make themselves seem important.
“They’re giving whoever did this the glory they wanted to receive for doing this," Calnon said.