My parents and I spent the weekend on a road trip to Indianapolis, Indiana. Spending time with your parents as an adult is a wonderful thing. We have a great time laughing and enjoying each other’s company. As our road trip begin, the conversation quickly turned to recent events. This has been a hard week for all of America. I find myself wondering not if a tragic event will happen, but when. Violence, prejudice and injustice are dominating the news cycle. Even as an educated, mature adult I have been struggling to process recent events. My parents and I spent part the trip talking about the state of affairs in the United States. It was very comforting to me to be able to discuss and process my feelings with my parents, people who love and support me. As our trip and conversations continued, I found myself thinking about children all around the United States that are seeing and hearing the news but may not have someone to help them process their feelings.
My mom reminded me of a Fred Rogers quote that I have heard many times: “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.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” Mr. Rogers has been in my life since I was very young. I remember my dad changing the channel from cartoons to PBS in the mornings before school. As I began to think about what I wanted to write my blog about, the quote came to mind. I wanted to know more about it and visited http://www.fredrogers.org/ . It is the official website for Mr. Rogers and has some wonderful resources. I encourage you to check out http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php . There you will find a video, resources and tips on how to have hard or scary conversation about a crisis or tragedy with young children.
As I read through the resources and watched the video of Mr. Rogers, something struck me. The first suggestion Mr. Rogers makes is to ask and encourage your young child to use their own words to describe what is happening around them. He explains that sometimes children can perceive or imagine the tragedy to be greater than it is. He also suggests providing support and reassurance to the child in a calm manner, making it clear to them that you are there and always will be. That point really struck me. I immediately thought of the conversations I had had with my parents. I also thought of times in my life that something scary has happened- a car accident for example-and my first call was to my mom. She is a huge source of calm and comfort for me, even as an adult. I found myself asking: How, as both an educator and advocate, can I provide that source of calm and comfort for children that may not have that such an adult in their life?
Providing children with a safe, supportive relationship in which they can freely express their feelings is a much bigger call to action than just myself. Young children need to have a “helper” as Mr. Rogers said. They must have a supportive, caring, trustworthy adult that they can lean on in a time of uncertainty. As a community and nation we must all do our part to provide that for all children. In our ever changing society, it is our role as community members, parents, caregivers, teachers, etc. to model a calm response to crisis and be a stabilizing force to the children we interact with. Being a “helper” to young children can take many forms. I encourage you to find a way show the children in your community that you care. This can be as simple as offering a smile or a kind word, volunteering to participate in their class, encouraging them to share their feelings with you or writing an uplifting note and putting it in their lunchbox. Just like a ship seeks out a safe harbor to weather a storm, children will seek out and share with the adults that offer a safe place to them. Ultimately, being a “helper” shows children that whatever is happening around them, there are, and will also be, adults that care, support and love them. It is a powerful thing to learn, at a young age, there are adults around that you can always go to. That lesson can help to shape a young child as they continue to develop and find their way in the world. It can also continue to serve you as an adult! I know that whatever may happen in my life-big or small- I can call my parents. They are my “helpers”. They will be calm and provide me with a safe place to see a solution to the problem. This supportive relationship began at a young age and continues today. I charge you to be a “helper”-be that adult for a young child. It the responsibility of every member of the community to provide children with a supportive relationship and cultivate future generations- especially in trying times.
Rachel Gentry is the Program Manager for Early Childhood Programs at Tennessee Voices for Children. Rachel holds a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She is certified in Special Education and Elementary Education in the state of Tennessee. Rachel brings to TVC five years teaching experience, a strong research background in early childhood and extensive experience in managing, mitigating and preventing challenging behavior. She is a lifelong learner. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and puppy, Coco.