“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.”
― Fred Rogers
Boston. Poor Boston. Poor parents trying to explain this to their children, especially after Newtown.
I am truly empathetic because, as a family living in New York, one of the hardest things about 9/11 was trying to steady myself so I could help my four children.
As a child, I was terrified about communism. Truly terrified. I didn’t share how scared I was with my parents because everyone else seemed ok. My seven siblings played and my parents went to their usual parties. I, meanwhile, was convinced that communists, dressed in black, of course, would come in by boat (we lived on Lake Michigan) and would crawl up our yard from the beach and storm the house. The Cuban Missile Crisis was probably what inspired my terror. It’s difficult to know how kids are affected by the news.
I understand how hard it is to be traumatized by the awful events this week in Boston and then help your kids with their fears. It’s the kids who don’t say how scared they are that you might be worrying about most.
Here’s a simple lesson I learned: Be active in the recovery. When awful things like this happen, it can paralyze you and make it even harder to parent.
Kids also need to witness your empathy and strength and then be given a chance to practice leadership. It can be as simple as drawing pictures or writing letters to the victims or their families or making a meal for someone who was somehow affected. It can also be helping your child’s school with some type of outreach campaign. Let them help you. Kids need to know that we can make things better even in small ways. It gives them hope.
In hindsight, there probably wasn’t a need for the thousands of pairs of socks or face masks that I helped my children’s elementary school collect after 9/11 but it gave families a reason to snap out of their shock and do something. More importantly, their kids were now shopping with them, away from the television and engaged in something positive and getting their power back.
I’m not a child psychologist but I’ll tell you why I know this is important. I was in an awkward position the Monday after the World Trade Center bombing. I had some checks for the Red Cross that I had collected and I just wanted to deliver it to the principal and then “try to get back to normal (ha!).” Since I lived across the street, I risked just throwing on sweats and running over to the school. No shower. No makeup. I don’t think I even really had combed my hair. (All things that I should have known better but I think a lot of moms can relate to that split second decision…“I won’t run into anyone. I’ll just run in and out.”)
The school secretary said the principal was in the gym. What she didn’t tell me was that she was holding an assembly for the 500+ students. The principal was struggling. It was eery because the kids weren’t acting like kids. They looked like little zombies. Stunned and silent. None of the usual squirming or smiles or bright eyes.
Mrs. Macula asked me to say something. I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me?” At that time, I was also afraid to do any public speaking and on top of that, I’m aware that I’m not looking much like an authority figure…and two of my kids are in the audience.
I literally prayed. Please let me say something that will help.
I swear I had no control over the words coming out of my mouth. I simply said,
You’ve already made things better. There’s evil in the world but you’re good. There are more good people than bad.
I could literally feel the mood change in the gym. As I was leaving the building, a young girl stepped up to me and said, “Mrs. Raisch, that was a good speech.”
If it was comforting, I can’t take any credit. I’m being honest when I say that I was panicked but to this day, I’m grateful for those words. All the kids had heard about for nearly a week was that people can be evil.
Kids can be reminded during these horrible times that they are leaders and they have power. The smallest thing or person has the power to make things better.
Fred Rogers’ mother knew the same thing.
God Bless You, Boston.