The news provides us with a daily dose of what is wrong and going wrong in the world. And the news is no longer confined to a half-hour at 6 P.M. and 10 P.M.—continuous coverage is on all social media. We all want—and need—to know and understand what is happening here and in other parts of the globe, but the words and images can be disturbing and confusing. Within a few minutes’ time, we may hear of drive-by shootings in Chicago, crazed gunmen, an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, child abuse, and terrorist organizations bent on destruction.
Very young children need to be shielded from the nightmarish images on the news; the older the children, however, the more difficult it is to completely protect them. The trusted adults in their lives will be called upon to help them cope with their feelings and attempt to answer their questions.
Some of you might find your answers in religion and through prayer, and if you can provide comfort in this way, that’s great. But be aware that children are experiencing most of the same feelings that you are, even though they might express and deal with these feelings in different, age-appropriate ways.
I looked for books that might invite children to consider and discuss their reactions to scary and sad events and this is what I found:
Feelings by Aliki (ages 4 – 8) is good for children who are struggling with identifying and expressing their emotions. Different stories and engaging illustrations accompany each feeling and will, hopefully, spark discussion.
How Are You Peeling? by Saxton Freymann and Joost Eiffers (ages 4 – 8) offers a creative and whimsical way to explore feelings. Photographs showcase foods with moods; this team has found various fruits and vegetables that each appear to convey an emotion and then attached two black-eyed peas for eyes, the results being surprisingly effective (I considered saying appealing, for my husband’s amusement). You and your grandchild might want to experiment similarly with produce—all mistakes being edible.
A Terrible Thing Happened—A story for children who have witnessed violence or trauma by Margaret Holmes and Cary Pillo (ages 4 – 10) wisely never shows what the main character—Sherman Smith— witnessed, so it can be applied to any appropriate scenario.Through the story, children will be reassured that it is normal for a whole host of emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, confusion, frustration, to arise from witnessing violence and trauma. When Sherman opens up to the school counselor, they will also understand that while we often try to hide from such scary feelings, it is best to talk about it with a trusted adult. Pillo’s poignant illustrations complement the telling. An afterword written for parents and other caregivers offers suggestions and lists resources for helping traumatized children.
Sometimes Bad Things Happen by Ellen Jackson (ages 4 – 8) features bright photographs of sad and bad things happening and children’s facial reactions; the book offers simple coping strategies such as hugging a friend, singing a brave song and planting a flower. As you read together, encourage your grandchildren to acknowledge their feelings and then brainstorm positive ways to respond.
As for me, I am thinking of rereading the classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. Rabbi Kushner wrestles with this issue in a very personal, clear and intelligent manner after his young son is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Actually, this would be a valuable suggestion for teenagers, if they are receptive.
I encourage you—and the children in your life— to unplug occasionally, take some deep breaths and spend at least a little time outside.