The coronavirus continues to affect families’ lives and alter daily routines. Like many parents, I’m learning how to navigate these unexpected times right alongside my four young children. Curious in nature, they’ve looked to me to help guide them.
When I recently found myself at a loss for words when explaining COVID-19 to my children, decades-old wisdom from Fred Rogers came back to me:
“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.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
Who Are the Helpers?
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a popular show in our home. “Look for the Helpers” is a song we sing together often, and it encourages us to look for the people who help those in need, especially when we’re scared or frightened.
In what can feel like an unsettling time, my kids and I brainstormed a list of helpers working to care for our community during COVID-19. We talked about how these helpers work hard to keep us healthy and safe, and, as we wrote down each helper, we reflected on the positive ways they’re caring for us during this time.
Our coronavirus helper list includes:
- Doctors, nurses and EMTs who keep us healthy and help us when we’re sick
- Police officers and firefighters who don’t stop working to keep us safe
- Farmers and grocery store employees who ensure our shelves are full of healthy food to eat
- Mail delivery people who help us stay connected, even when we can’t visit loved ones
- Teachers and school staff who brainstorm ways for kids to learn from home
- Sanitation workers who help us recycle and keep our communities clean
Since we’re staying home and not seeing many of our friends, neighbors or community helpers, it was helpful to visualize the people who are still working every day to keep us and our neighbors cared for. One of my sons grabbed markers and construction paper and drew a collection of helpers. Drawing and writing thank you notes is also a great way to tangibly remember (and appreciate!) our local helpers.
“Look for the Helpers” is a Resource for Families
Aundi Kolber is a licensed professional counselor and parent to an 8-year-old and 3-year-old. She says Mister Rogers’ idea of “look for the helpers” is a positive tool for parents that comes from a place of hope.
“There are times we're going to feel sad, there are times we're going to feel scared. If we can lean into our feelings knowing that there are people who really care about others — who are modeling what Mister Rogers talked about — it can actually make it more possible for us to fully feel the sad or scared feeling,” Aundi says. “And when we feel supported as we feel our feelings, we can process them. Kids need their caregivers to help them process and manage big emotions.”
By looking for the helpers with our young kids during unsettling times, parents can help foster resilience.
“For parents, the more that we stay grounded and rooted, we actually [better support] our kids. We are the best resource in terms of helping them feel safe as they have big emotions, to feel safe to move through hard things. And that's actually what creates resilience — when we have the safety to feel our feelings, we can move through harder things,” Aundi says.
Kids can practice this in the Daniel Tiger's Grr-ific Feelings app, where they can play and explore their feelings through four rich, engaging activities.
We Can All Be Helpers — Kids, Too!
As my children and I cultivated a sense of gratitude for the helpers in our community, I posed a question: As a family, how can we help, too?
Even though our role right now as a family is to stay home as much as we can, we don’t have to feel disengaged from our neighbors and the broader community. Seeing ourselves — even the youngest among us — as helpers has empowered my kids in an otherwise anxious time. They are energized by thinking creatively about how they could play important roles in caring for each other, and for others, during these times.
Here are a few ways my kids brainstormed to be helpers at home:
- Clearing the table after dinner
- Collecting sticks from our yard
- Drawing a picture for friend or family member
- Helping a sibling find a toy
- Picking up books or toys without without being asked
Aundi says that when children (and adults!) take fearful feelings and mobilize them into being helpful, we not only assist others, but we help our own physiological bodies process emotions, too.
With her 8-year-old and 3-year-old, she has framed hand-washing and staying home as two important ways to be helpers.
“One of the ways we can be helpers is by washing our hands, and by doing what we can not to spread the virus. It's okay to be a little bit uncertain or scared, but we can be helpers by washing hands and staying home,” Aundi says. “We've really tried to find a balance between processing emotion and talking about how we are doing everything we can to stay safe and to keep other people safe. This is a way that we're helping.”
Kayla Craig is a writer and podcast producer raising four young kids who joined their family via birth and adoption. She loves deep mugs of coffee, deeper belly laughs, and even deeper questions. She spends too much time on Instagram.