January 15, 2011
|Resources for Helping Children
with Tragic Events in the News
By Hedda Sharapan
Whenever there’s tragedy in the news, like the recent Tucson shootings, I worry about how young children interpret (and misinterpret) what they hear – not only from the news but also from the conversations of the adults around them. And I’m concerned that we’re all tangled in our own emotional reactions, and that makes it even harder to talk about with a child.
Over the years many people have been grateful for Fred Rogers’ reassuring help with difficult issues. He certainly was a pioneer in addressing children’s concerns about tragic news events, beginning with his response to Robert Kennedy’s assassination to his calming and thoughtful insight during the War in the Persian Gulf, September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Some of our resources to help children with scary news are now available on our website. We hope you’ll find them helpful, that you’ll pass them on to parents and others who work with children, and that you’ll keep this site in mind whenever you’re looking for reassuring ways to help children through difficult situations.
Talking about difficult subjects with childrenHere are some ways you can apply the suggestions from the video to your work with children:
Be prepared. Think about addressing this in a staff meeting in the near future. It can help to set aside some time to talk about how to handle moments like that, so you are less likely to be caught off guard. Children feel safer when the adults aren’t flustered by something they’ve said.
Take a deep breath. In our “Mad Feelings” workshop, we help people understand that whenever we get anxious, upset, or angry, our stress hormones kick in. Then we’re working from the most primitive part of our brain (the “fight or flight” part), and the logical thinking part of our brain turns off. It’s hard for any of us to think clearly when we’re upset. But when we take a deep breath, we get more relaxed, the stress hormones decrease, and then we are more likely to think clearly about how to respond.
Look around to see how the other children are responding. Is it just that one child who needs help dealing with it? You can better judge that by watching for signs of anxiety from the others. Being a careful observer always helps.
If you sense there are others who are upset, too, it can help to acknowledge their feelings. You could say something like, “Some things are sad and scary,” and then have a discussion about what helps when they need comfort and reassurance.
Acknowledge what the child has said. I know how tempting it is to try to avoid difficult subjects and move on, but it’s important that children know you care about what they say and feel. Here are some things a caregiver said on the video: “ I'm so glad you told me that. I want to hear more about it, so we're going to talk more about it later." You have your own ways of letting the children know you are there for them.
If you feel the child can’t wait until later to talk with you, ask someone to be with the other children so you can listen one-on-one. That lets all the children know that their concerns, feelings, and needs really matter to you, and that will go a long way toward strengthening your relationship with all the children.
You don’t need answers. Even on the episodes Fred Rogers made about dealing with death, he told his viewers that there are some things that even he, now as an adult, doesn’t understand. He also often reminded us that “whatever is mentionable can be more manageable.” What’s important in that conversation is to give permission for children to talk about their story and to let them know their feelings are natural and normal. When we say to someone, young or old, “Tell me more,” we’re letting them know that we really care.
Here at The Fred Rogers Company, our thoughts and prayers are with the families who were affected by the tragic shootings in Tucson. And we all hope for peaceful days ahead.
P.S. I’ll be speaking in the Chicago area at the end of this month, and I’d love to meet you if you’re at any of these events:
Thursday, Jan. 27 Networking dinner for the Winnetka Alliance for Early Childhood - “Through the Eyes of a Child”
"When I was a boy and 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.”
Here's a reassuring way to have a conversation with the children about their fears.
From our Archives
« December - 'Tis the Season - For Some Quiet
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episodes are now available at amazon.com as downloads or on DVD. The first batch of 100 titles covers four decades of the series, including programs that have not been seen for more than 30 years. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood videos and clips are streamed on our PBSKids website.