Years ago, Fred Rogers gave sage advice for kids when they see scary news—Look for the Helpers. He said, “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 there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in the world.”
What wonderful words of support! Even in the most tragic situation that your child may hear about, there are always people helping others. This article will explore how to teach your child about helpers, both looking for them and being one.
Who Are the Helpers?
Anyone can be a helper. The most obvious helpers are firemen, policemen, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and teachers. These people are very important in a crisis. Less distinct helpers consists of almost anyone in a community. The list will be long, but can include grocery store clerks, librarians, ministers, cooks, and neighbors. Very important and safe helpers are family members like grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It can be a fun exercise to come up with a list of all the helpers.
How Do Helpers Help?
When you are talking to your child about helpers, you might discuss all the ways helpers help us. Some helper jobs are pretty clear. Firemen and firewomen help put out fires, police officers protect us from bad events, doctors and nurses safeguard our health, and teachers care for us in school. Other folks like neighbors, ministers, city officials, and really, anyone can come together to provide food, housing, money, and emotional support. Examples of neighbors helping neighbors can be seen in your own backyard and on the news. Help your child look for good representations of helpers.
Family members also provide critical help when a child is scared by events. Parents often enlist the help of family to give shelter, love, and wise advice. Remind your child of all people in their family who are helpers.
Helpers Far Away
Helpers in faraway places are important. You will need to tailor your discussion to the age of the child, but you could talk about the current war where helpers from many other countries are offering help to displaced Ukranian people. Poland has provided a good example of how to offer shelter, food, and support to folks who have lost everything. The United States is taking in at least 100,000 people from Ukraine who need to start over. You could consider what that may mean for the cities, schools, and neighborhoods who take in these refugees.
Natural disasters can be very scary for kids. As an example, the wildfires throughout the United States are disturbing for all of us. If your child becomes aware of the fires, how can you discuss the tragedy with her? After reassuring her that she is safe, you can ask your child about all the helpers in a fire situation and consider how brave the helpers are.
Can You Be A Helper?
The answer is “Of Course!” You and your child can look for ways to become helpers. Kids and adults alike are more upset when they feel helpless and passive–and more comfortable when they are taking action.
You can be a role model for your child. Let her know if you are making a money donation, going to a town meeting, donating to a food bank, marching for a cause, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. Children need to see that adults can be active during crises.
Depending on their age, your child can join you in being helper. Would he like to share some of their allowance towards a donation, work in a food bank, write a letter, and/or help you open your home to others? The idea list of how both you and your child can be helpers is endless. And you will both feel so much better by getting involved.
Can You Help Your Kids Shrink Their Worries?
It is a given that your child will feel scared when they hear difficult news. Many psychologists believe that teaching a child to talk back to his worries is a successful way to help kids shrink their worries.
- Help your child identify his fears. You could ask, “What is your Worry Monster saying to you about the news?” Have your child be specific. An example may be that Worry Monster is saying that the same terrible event will happen to him or his family and he is not safe.
- Explore how the event is not near your home and you are keeping him safe.
- Encourage your child to talk back to his Worry Monster—“No way, Worry Monster, that is happening a long way from here. My parents are keeping me safe. I plan to help when I can. Go away, NOW!”
- Ask your child how he feels talking back to that mean monster!
You can explore these ideas in more detail in the delightful story titled Shrinking the Worry Monster, A Kid’s Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries (also in Spanish) and in other books designed to lower a child’s worry level.
Fred Rogers famously encouraged all of us to “Look for the Helpers”. Although it is only one a number of good things to do when your child sees disturbing news, it is important to remember. This article identifies who are the helpers during a crisis and what they do. It also gives tips on how both you and your child can be helpers when difficult events happen. Suggestions are provided on how to shrink your child’s worries when the news is scary.
Dr. Sally is a retired child psychologist and children’s book author. Her book, Shrinking the Worry Monster is now in Spanish–Encoger el Monstruo de los Miedos. Her website is www.drsallyb.com. She is available for events discussing anxiety, sleep, and children.