I recently came across a wonderful episode of Mr. Rogers for parents, produced a very long time ago, when Kennedy was assassinated. The video and audio have a bit of a quality issue, but if you bear with it, I think the message is really a very important one for parents of young children to understand.
Every person needs to process grief or scary news in a personal way. It is our job as parents, or trusted adults in children’s lives, to try to honor that as well as provide only the information that the young child is seeking in a gentle way with an open door for more questions. This video is such good modeling of exactly that. Our availability to them in their learning coupled with our conscious effort not to overwhelm them with difficult information they aren’t requesting is the road to help them best process and find what they need.
In this video, Mr. Rogers shows a puppet’s experience (as the child) of hearing the word assassination when Kennedy was shot. ‘Lady Aberlin’ takes the time to understand what the puppet needs to know and provides an open invitation for more conversation. In this way, she is demonstrating how to let a child lead a conversation about this hard topic.
Mr. Rogers then explains to the parents and adults watching that it’s a big concern to him how much violence is shown in the media, how much we talk about that in the presence of young children, and how children will be negatively impacted by this if the adults in their worlds aren’t cautious about supporting them by answering their questions as well as shielding them from what is too much for them to take in. He was ahead of his time in his capacity to reach generations of parents and teachers, providing them with appropriate and helpful advice about supporting young children in a variety of ways.
This topic is so important for us to continue to consider and prioritize. With web and social media literally constantly at our fingertips and often in the room with children, it has become even more true that we are constantly given access to news and media that may contain difficult and violent content. This makes it more urgent for us as parents to make conscious choices about protecting both ourselves and our children from exposure to news of trauma so that we can take care of our own mental well being and the mental well being of our children.
This advice extends to difficult things that happen directly in their lives, such as the death of a pet or loved one.
The take away is that we do want to address topics that are difficult so that developing children can be supported in learning with accuracy and supported in processing in a healthy way. Some children will have lots of questions, others will want time. We don’t want to overwhelm them or overshare information they aren’t ready for, so following their questions and letting them know we are here if they want to talk about it again is what they usually need from us. The balance is key, as often is the case in good parenting and teaching.