In a world where we are often surrounded by scary, sad news stories it’s hard to completely protect our kids from seeing these stories. Children are intuitive; they overhear us in the other room, they pick up on our emotions, they overhear us talking when we’re sure we’re out of earshot, they hear people outside of the home talking. They will almost always find out what’s going on. The question becomes how do we help them understand and cope without living in fear. It’s something I still struggle with as an adult as well.
One of my favourite quotes on this subject is by Fred Rogers.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
When we see tragedy on TV let’s be sure to point out those coming together to help. Try to focus on the good that comes from tragedy because you will always find it if you look. And in the age we live in, with so much tragedy being caused by our fellow-man, focusing on the good makes sure the bad guys do not win.
Limiting your own TV time during these tragedies is a good place to start. The media thrives on sensationalism and will find the most horrific images they can to outdo their competitors. These images can be scary and confusing for us as adults, even more so for our kids. It’s easy for any of us to intend to watch 5 minutes but get sucked in just wanting more information. While our kids are around turning the TV off, or putting on a movie may be a good idea.
Always make sure your kids feel comfortable asking you questions. While we won’t always have the answers about why these things, such as war, terrorism, fires, earthquakes, etc happen they deserve as honest as an answer as we can give to help them understand. Perhaps a question about a natural disaster can turn into a lesson about weather, science or geography; a tragic fire can begin a talk about fire safety. If you’re ever at a loss on how to answer it never hurts to ask “What do you think happened?” and start from there.
Feelings should always be validated, as well. It’s okay to be sad or scared. There is nothing wrong with those emotions and it’s okay to allow you kids to feel them. Without sadness we can’t truly appreciate happiness. And it’s okay to admit to your kids that you are having those feelings as well.
As Mr. Rogers said,
If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may try to hide those feelings or think something is wrong with them whenever they do feel that way. They certainly don’t need details of what’s making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.
More helpful hints from Fred Rogers’ PBS page.
– Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
– Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
– Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
– Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on familiar patterns of everyday life.
– Plan something that you and your child can enjoy together, like taking a walk or going on a picnic, having some quiet time together or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, both in good times and in bad.
– Even if children don’t mention what they’ve seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don’t bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
– Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. – It’s reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help in this world.
– Let your child know if you’re making a donation or going to a meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children know that adults take many different active roles…and that we don’t give in to helplessness in time of crisis.
So let’s take Mr. Rogers’ advice and look for some helpers in a couple recent tragedies.
In Tunisia this week, a gunman opened fire at a beach side resort. Matthew James, a South Wales father of two, was one of the lucky survivors. However, he was shot three times in the hip, chest and pelvis, because he was trying to shield his fiancée and save her life. He was the first to be shot, and made sure to get his fiancée to safety. After getting her to a safe place he held the hand of an elderly victim and did his best to provide the man comfort in his last moments.
After the attack on Emanuel AME Church last week, HOPE Animal Assistance Crisis Response brought trained therapy dogs into the city to help the Charleston community heal. They showed up at a rally with Porsha and George (A St. Bernard and a labradoodle). For two kids attending it was their first time ever touching a dog. The children had lost 2 family friends in the shooting. Their reactions cause onlookers to “awww” and laugh. Many people attending said just spending a few minutes with the dogs made them forget their grief and smile for the first time in days, even if it was temporary relief it was very welcome.