By: Dawn A. Kurtz, Ph.D., Chief Research Officer, Child360
“I’ve been terribly concerned about the graphic display of violence which the mass media has been showing recently. And I plead for your protection and support of your young children. There is just so much that a very young child can take without it being overwhelming.”
This is Fred Rogers responding to the nation after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
With the recent release of the highly anticipated Sony Pictures “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks, we are yet again reeling from another devastating school shooting. With so many parents, teachers, caregivers and neighbors wondering, and worrying, about how best to address these tragedies with our children. How to protect and support them. It’s time for all of us to take heed and channel our inner Mister Rogers, live out his teachings because they are more relevant than ever.
Mister Rogers dedicated his life to educating and loving children. He instilled there is always something to be learned—teaching us about kindness, acceptance, helping behavior, trust, gratitude, and healing; core values shared by Child360 and the beloved early educators we support.
A child’s brain development begins in utero with the brain architecture eighty-five percent formed by age three. It’s these early days when every interaction, every moment matters most.
Mister Rogers had a magical way of making any topic feel neighborly to young children. He took on tough, important issues – tragedy, discrimination, poverty, differences — in an approachable way, making children feel safe about exploring their own emotions. He empowered kids to be proud of who they are, and connected us all in the process.
His “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” was far ahead of its time. Today, education experts coin this “Trauma-Informed Care,” an approach Child360 stands by and works diligently to train hundreds of early educators on yearly. Using imaginative play allows young children to work through challenges and talk about difficult topics in an age-appropriate way. It meets children where they are, in a natural space and is a vessel to teach self-regulation, self-awareness, and acceptance – attributes everyone in this world needs – whether you’re five, or sixty-five.
Educators and parents can channel the spirit of Mister Rogers with a few practical tips and best practices to help young children navigate big feelings and mature topics, and lead to healthy social-emotional development:
Talk about the Headlines
Recent events remind us of the importance of comforting children in the wake of tragedy and how to have age-appropriate conversations about the news of the day. Discussion-based reading is an excellent tool to navigate this tricky landscape. It’s important for children to feel safe and protected in their everyday lives, and to have the freedom to explore strong and confusing emotions. Here are our top picks for talking about feelings and coping with frustrations in our world.
Use Art to Express Feelings
Art therapy encourages children to use painting, drawing or coloring to express their feelings. Here, children are the narrator of their own story. This approach promotes self-regulation, connection to self and identity, and creative expression.
Craft (and Celebrate) Family History
A DIY Paper Mache Piñata or a family tree made out of craft elements found in the home or outdoors can help children connect with their family roots and unique home influence. When a child finds the beauty in who he or she is, they develop higher self-esteem. When interacting with other children, they may be more empowered and more open to exploring others’ differences.
When adults are aware and sensitive to children’s needs, it builds a secure foundation for children to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns. Done well, grown-ups will be seen as a resource of support, reassurance and guidance – just like Mister Rogers. Couple things to keep in mind: be aware of body language and facial cues when a child is having trouble expressing feelings verbally; serve as a resource to solving problems, rather than the final word; and be present and available, approach situations with curiosity.
Our children look to us to facilitate safe spaces where they can freely observe and describe their emotions, experiment with the process of problem solving, and develop healthy language around how they view themselves, and the differences they may see in others.
Seemingly more than ever, trauma, mental health, violence, and bullying are at the forefront of conversation. Empowering young children, as Mister Rogers did, is a proactive approach to building healthy individuals and the foundation every child deserves for future learning, and life. After all, it’s up to us to create the neighborhoods we want for our children, and that means a world filled with kindness.