Children have a way with words, a way of getting right to the heart of the matter.
Don’t hit your friends. No throwing mulch. Help clean up. These are the basics we go over in preschool again and again.
As a second-grader with a toothy grin, Martin Richard of Boston honed in on a simple message of peace for a school poster last year: “No more hurting people. Peace.” A keepsake photo was snapped.
Through social media, the simple school photo became the first face of the attack at the Boston Marathon. Only 8 and full of promise, Martin was killed while watching the race with his family. Through Facebook, his message of peace is forever.
Martin’s mother and younger sister were seriously injured in the blasts. Since the tragedy, the Richard family has had to face the ordeal of recovering, grieving and finding privacy in a public world.
After Julia Wilcox Rathkey’s husband was killed on 9/11, she not only had her pain to cope with, but the grief of her three children. She said she didn’t find any books with the answers, so she wrote one: “What Children Need When They Grieve” (Three Rivers Press, 2004). In her journey, the mother found that children generally have different reactions and emotions that ebb and flow, but there are four essentials that they need: routine, love, honesty and security.
Rathkey adds that any explanation about death needs to build on a child’s life experiences. What does the child already know? What is he going through, and how has he been influenced by television, the Internet or comments by his friends?
Among the scores with serious injuries in the marathon attack was Erika Brannock, who teaches 2-year-olds at Trinity Episcopal Children’s Center in Towson, Md., and was in Boston with her sister to watch their mother run the race. A story in the Baltimore Sun described Brannock as “so outgoing and so loving … everyone’s teacher and everyone’s friend.”
Brannock had reminded parents at the Friday afternoon pickup before the marathon that she would be out on Monday because she was “going to see Mom run.” On Tuesday morning, after the tragedy, the school kept the morning drop-off routine the same – a choice that is imperative for the emotional well-being of children. One dad of a 2-year-old in Brannock’s class described the normal drop-off as comforting in a time of shock.
In troubled times, try to alter children’s routines as little as possible. Little kids will absorb the chaos and tension around them, but still demand their Dora sippy cups – no matter how dark the day.
Since the tragedy in Boston, many Internet users have shared advice from Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” When Rogers was a boy and saw scary things in the news, he said his mother would say those words to him.
For caregivers looking for more guidance from experts, the Fred Rogers Co. website at www.fci.org/new-site/par-tragic-events.html has tips, including:
• Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
• Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
• Give your child extra comfort and affection, such as hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book.
Betsy Flagler is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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