I spent the last week canoeing in the Canadian Wilderness and out of contact with anyone. Upon my return, my mom pointed out the real advantage to my trip- missing out on a week’s worth of tragic news.
Police shootings, shootings of police, mass shootings, terrorism, rapes…tragedy has touched so many recently as in the past. I try to remember in each of these instances that not only were humans turned to victims, but that the shooters, the rapists, the terrorists are also humans. Humans with feelings. I am say this not to diminish the feelings of the victims and their communities. I say this because I wonder how could these humans have ever become so crazed, fearful, angry, lonely, confused, sad, numb, or whatever emotion they were feeling that they acted so violently?
Each of these humans was at one point in time a 3 year old, a 7 year old, a 16 year old, and everything in between and beyond. As an educator, I can’t help but wonder, how did the adults around them responded when their three year old self was angry? When their 7 year old self was afraid? When their 16 year old self was lonely? How had the adults around them coached their peers to respond? How have we, as a human society, let individuals grow up to respond to their emotions with violence?
Emotions are tough. Helping kids deal with them, while we as adults deal with our own, can be even tougher. The research is there on just how important a task this is. Going about it is easier said than done. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.
So yesterday, when a six year old girl on the first day of camp was close to tears because she missed her mom, I knelt down and talked to her. First, I tried the normal distraction topics, talking about things like favorite foods, what she did at camp that day, and how independent she is riding the bus from camp by herself.
She was still on the verge. I was running out of distraction topics. It’d been thunder storming all afternoon and we’d been stuck in a hot, stuffy building with lots of noise. Quite frankly, I’d rather be with my mom right then, too.
Then, I thought about how healthy it is for kids to know and understand and feel their own emotions. And then learn to cope with them. I’d been to training’s on this; I’d read up on it. And yet here I was, trying to make both of us pretend she wasn’t sad.
She broke down sobbing. Ok, maybe I didn’t actually think about the psychology in the moment preceding, maybe I just ran out of things to distract her. But as I looked at this six year old breaking down, trying to snuggle up against me (yuck, it was so HOT, but I let her lean on my shoulder anyways), I knew that I’d failed at keeping her distracted from her sadness. More importantly though, I’d succeeded in helping her overcome this sadness by first letting her experience it.
I looked her in the eyes and told her that “it’s OK to be sad.”
Yes, it’s ok to be sad. Emotions are tough. The news is tough. The news makes us emotional and yet all those people in the news have their own emotions. There are so many underlying societal issues leading to these tragedies- racism, homophobia, access to mental health care, objectification of women…too many to list…..
If we can’t even list them all, how can we even begin to solve them all?
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.
Here’s one way to try to heal our world: Listen to the needs of the six year old in your life, wipe their tears, and let them go in for a hug, no matter how sweaty it is.