As a small child in the early 1990s, I grew up watching reruns of the television show, “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” on PBS. While I may no longer be able to tell you the plot to a trip to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, I will always remember Fred Rogers and his cast of characters made me feel like they were talking directly to me, and that my thoughts and feelings were important — even when I was scared or confused by what is going on in the world around me.
I wonder what Mr. Rogers would say to children today to cope with the news about COVID-19 and the unprecedented efforts to slow its spread. Right now, I feel like I could also use the reassuring words of Mr. Rogers — I’m scared and worried about what this virus and its aftermath are going to mean for my family, friends and the people in my neighborhood.
A famous quote by Fred Rogers pops up on my Facebook feed every time a big disaster or tragedy takes place; “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
As I spoke to people this week in the face of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus, the thing I heard most was the people that are already stepping forward to be the helpers. Churches, organizations and individuals had contacted the Stillwater Area School District asking how they could volunteer and help students and families in need as soon as it was announced that students would not be returning from spring break. Posts to Facebook groups offered short-term childcare, meals and assistance to families and senior citizens. Restaurants are offered free meals to children who rely on the free school breakfast and lunch program for daily meals.
The Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce has put together a resource of all the restaurants and businesses that will be offering curbside pick-up and home delivery, called The Great Valley Take-out Rally. You can find this list of businesses by searching for The Great Valley Take-Out Rally on Facebook. This is going to be a great way for locals to help out businesses that have just made it through the challenging winter season.
I see the helpers already stepping forward, and I know our neighborhood is going to get through this together. As the days and weeks go on, I ask that we keep helping each other. Our neighbors are going to need help; just as we may need to reach out for help too.
As I looked into the history of the Fred Rogers “Look for the Helpers” quote, I found that it is just part of a larger resource from Fred Rogers Productions on PBS.org on helping children through a crisis. While it can be a comfort to simply look for the helpers, Rogers asks us play our part in helping our community and helping children navigate this confusing and scary time. I found many of the tips comforting for my own life.
Here is a summary of this resource offered at pbs.org/parents/thrive/helping-children-with-tragic-events-in-the-news
While it is important to stay informed, limit how much your child sees of any news event. While interacting with your child, try to keep yourself calm. Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, as physical comfort goes a long way towards providing inner security for a child. That closeness can also help you cope with the uncertainty.
Try to keep up regular routines, so that children can count on their familiar pattern of everyday life. Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk or reading a book together, to remember simple activities that make us feel better.
Even if your child has spoken up about what they have seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think is going on. If parents don’t bring up the subject, active imaginations in children can lead to misinterpretations.
Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. It’s reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help others in this world, and that if we are hurt or sick someone will help us.
Include your child if you’re making a donation, writing a letter or e-mail of support or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles, and that we don’t give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.
Alicia Lebens is the managing editor of the Stillwater Gazette.