When you are a parent, it can feel as if the blow from tragedies is twice as painful: Not only do you feel heartsick for the people involved, but it’s also hard to avoid thinking about the repercussion for a child growing up in a world where mass shootings or terror attacks seem to make weekly headlines.
But there’s another unique, more uplifting aspect to parenting in this age: We have the power to raise a kinder generation.
That’s why these words from Fred Rogers always serve as a beacon of hope in times of tragedy:
“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.”
Although Mister Rogers has been gone for nearly 15 years, we can turn to him for more guidance on talking with children tragic events thanks to a resource on The Fred Rogers Company’s website.
Turn off the TV
As details of recent tragedies emerge, it’s good for us all to step away from the news–especially when kids are around. “Exposing ourselves to so many tragedies can make us feel hopeless, insecure and even depressed,” Rogers said. “We help our children and ourselves if we’re able to limit our own television viewing. Our children need us to spend time with them—away from the frightening images on the screen.”
For older kids, Rogers suggested redirecting their play into “nurturing themes,” such as pretending to be a nurse or preparing meals for emergency workers. He said helping channel their activities into something positive and uplifting can be beneficial for all: “Little by little, as the adults around them become more confident, hopeful and secure, our children probably will, too.”
No matter how much exposure children have to the news, it’s a universal need for them to feel secure. For younger kids, that may simply mean holding them close and telling them they are loved. Older children may need more reassurance.
“They need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe,” Rogers advised. “They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t even know are working hard to keep them safe too.”
Let them know it’s okay to feel scared
The truth is we don’t have the answers for why acts of senseless violence happen—but Rogers said that doesn’t mean we should avoid discussions with our children. He suggested, “If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, ‘What do you think happened?’ If the answer is ‘I don’t know,’ then the simplest reply might be something like, ‘I’m sad about the news, and I’m worried. But I love you, and I’m here to care for you.'”
By validating feelings of fear and sadness, Rogers said the emotions will become more manageable and can be channeled constructively.
“This way, we’ll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds’ future peacemakers—the world’s future ‘helpers.'”