University of Delaware

Coping with tragedy

FSAP offers information on how to cope with Boston Marathon bombings


11:08 a.m., April 19, 2013--The University of Delaware Faculty and Staff Assistance Program has prepared information on how people can cope with the Boston Marathon bombings.

In a letter to the campus community, FSAP writes:

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Towards the finish of the Boston Marathon on April 15, the city of Boston was shaken by two bomb explosions. Following the attack we have been seeing horrifying images of injury, destruction and distraught people. Bostonians and many around the nation  are  filled with shock, fear, anger, anxiety, sadness and confusion from this tragedy.

Sudden traumatic incidents affect everyone differently based on age, individual experiences and personalities. It is normal to want to talk about and share our thoughts  and experiences with others. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to listen and provide support in a completely confidential and non­ judgmental setting for those who simply want to talk as well as those who may be more deeply affected. EAP can be reached at 302-831-2414.

How can you cope with such a horrific event? Harvard psychologist William Pollack, Ph.D., suggests the following:

• Be selective about your sources of information. In a time of tragedy, listen to information from reliable resources. Not every tweet is accurate. After locating family or friends who may have been affected, you may wish to only tune in to news conferences or read reliable web sites.

• Tune out to tune in. Obsessively listening is a form of secondary traumatization. It's natural to want to compulsively watch what's going on, but taking in intense information very quickly is upsetting and not helpful. After confirming everyone you know is safe, go for a walk, and spend time with loved ones. Limit exposure to news updates.

• Connect with others. We can experience a massive disconnect as we wonder who or what could cause such an event. Call your friends. Make dinner for your wife. Hug your kids. Being with friends and family helps re-establish feelings of connection and normalcy.

• Separate knowledge and fear. In the wake of these events, we cannot withdraw from life. Dangers are real; they exist but are rare. Pollack advises unless you have true reason to stay away, avoiding public places means that "the people who want to cause harm have caused you harm."

How can we help guide our children through this stressful time?

Children need to have answers to three fundamental questions:

• Am I safe?

• Are you, the people who take care of me, safe?

• How will these events affect my daily life?

It is important to provide answers to these questions, even if your children don't put them into words. You should expect to answer these questions several times over the next few days and perhaps longer. Keeping as normal a schedule as possible will help reassure your children as well.

Children will be very upset at images of mourning friends and family. Often this will make them concerned about the safety of their own family. Reassure your children that you're doing everything you can to stay safe so that you can take care of them.

• Share your feelings with your children. Let them know it’s OK to be frightened or sad or angry-that's part of being human.

• Listen to your children and monitor their reactions and behaviors over the days and weeks ahead. Remind them it is the job of adults to keep them safe. Consider turning off the television and spending time playing and reading together.

• While you should try to answer your children's questions at a level they can understand, remember that you don't have to have an immediate answer for everything.  Some questions don't have good answers. Right now we do not know why this happened or who did it. No one has these answers.

• For teenagers, this horrific event can become a "teachable moment." What are their friends saying about the event? Discuss how they can increase their own personal safety. Listen to them even if you do not like everything they are saying.

• One of the most important things we can do as adults is monitor our own reactions to this event. If we are having a hard time managing our anxiety, we can be certain our children will be the first to notice. If we practice good self-care and take positive action, we will set a powerful example. Traumatic events can make us feel like we have lost control. One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is that we are vulnerable but not helpless.

• For more information on age-appropriate responses to children, go to this Psychology Today Inside Out, Outside In website.

Additional resources



Coping with Disaster

Helping Children Cope with Disaster

American Psychological Association

Managing Traumatic Stress: Tips for Recovering from Disaster and Other Traumatic Events

American Red Cross

Taking Care of Your Emotional Health After a Disaster

Recovering Emotionally


For support and information, call the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 302-831-2414. EAP provides free, confidential assessment, counseling, referral and consultation services on a wide variety of personal or work-related problems to all University of Delaware employees and their household members.

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