Northern California is on fire. Houston was under water last month and Puerto Rico is still without power. Natural disasters occur in every part of the world. Some places seem to experience some kind of disaster every year, and others seem immune until – surprise, surprise – something happens. A crack of lightning hits just the right spot, or a cold front meets 100% humidity, or a fault line that has been dormant for decades starts to shake.
It shakes, it sweats, it expresses, it sleeps, and then it wakes. Every day things happen in this world, and not all of them work according to our plans. Weddings get rained on. Soccer games get snowed on. Conventions get flooded, festivals get canceled, and new homes get shaken up. And sometimes it is really bad, and people die.
So if we are feeling vulnerable, helpless, angry, and grief-stricken, then how are our children feeling?
Children look to us for safety and reassurance and can sense that we are not feeling safe and reassured. So how do we handle that?
Great questions – and the answer, I think, is at once simple and complex. The complexity has to do with your family values, geography, and culture.
- Where do you live?
- What access does your child have to the media?
- Do you often volunteer to help those in need?
- What family stories do you share around natural disasters?
These are some of the complex questions you may consider when talking about the wildfires or floods or any other natural disaster.
But the simple response is where stories can help.
Here we think about “humanity” in the broad sense, not in the details. We don’t get caught up in particular incidents, particular events, or particular responses. Instead, we focus on the underlying fears and then the universal desire to help those in need.
THE SIMPLE TRUTHS THAT CHILDREN ALL AROUND THE WORLD WANT TO HAVE REINFORCED ARE:
- The world is good.
- I am safe and loved.
- It is okay to feel sad, mad, or scared.
- I want to help.
These truths may not seem like truths to us grown ups. It may be hard for us to validate “I am safe” when children are trapped in collapsed buildings after a tornado plows through their town. But we are not talking about us – we are talking about children – and a foundation of “I am safe” is a gift we can give them. This gift can inform how they meet challenges, disasters, and tragedy. If their broad sense of the world is that they are safe and that they can help those in need, then they can enter into difficult situations with a kind of confidence and clarity that will help not only themselves but those around them. So when they help others, then they can see everyone around as Helpers too.
We wrote a story to help model this – and we named it after the famous quote by Mr. Rogers “Look for the Helpers”
“Helpers” is a short story about Dennis, a happy little six-year-old boy who wakes one morning to see his mother listening to the radio in the kitchen. She turns it off, but Dennis can tell that something is wrong and that his mother is feeling sad – and maybe a little scared. She explains that something happened, a big storm moved through a town, and buildings were damaged and people were hurt.
When she sees that this is making him feel nervous, she scoops him up and tells him, “I know that when something like this happens – when there are very strong winds or other kinds of storms – people around the world will know about it. And do you know what they do when they find out? They will help.”
She then tells him about how all the people on their street, in their neighborhood, and in their town that want to make sure that he, Dennis, is safe.
“But you know what, Dennis?” his Mother asks, raising her eyebrows. “It is time for us to be the helpers. There are people that are feeling scared right now because a storm came to their house. Our house is fine and so are we. Are you ready to be a helper?”
Consider using this or other stories to comfort your child, reassure them, and then decide how your family wishes to help those in need.
Photo Credit: Getty Images