In the aftermath of Friday's unthinkable school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a quote has surfaced – shared, circulated and amplified on Facebook and Twitter – that may give parents some comfort in the wake of the most horrible crime.
The quote, from The Mister Rogers Parenting Book, the last book Fred Rogers had worked on before his 2003 death, gives parents some actionable advice: something to tell their kids and a small life-preserver to hang on to themselves.
“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'," he wrote. "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."
Certainly there was no shortage of helpers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some of whom lost their lives saving children. And the first thing children want to know is who will take care of them in extreme situations.
Kids in general, Rogers believed, are keenly aware of their parents' moods, finely tuned to the home ecosystem. So when stress mounts or the television blares unsettling news, it's scary for children to realize that their parents are also scared. And, let's face it, we're scared.
Another surprisingly timely video clip that will no doubt make the rounds shows an aging Rogers noodling on the piano. He turns to the camera and says, in all his kindly Midwestern wisdom:
Some parents wonder how to handle world news with their young children. Well we at Family Communications have discovered that when children bring up something frightening, it's helpful right away to ask them what they know about it. We often find that their fantasies are different from the actual truth.
What children probably need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything. And that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time. I'm always glad to be your neighbor.
Some more of Rogers' helpful hints, taken from the Fred Rogers Company:
- 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 inner security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
- Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on their familiar pattern of everyday life.
- Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, 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 really 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 others in this world.
- Let your child know if you're making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don't give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.