Commitment to Client Group

Helping Kids Cope With Fear in a Pandemic

What Would Mr. Rogers Do?

Mr. Rogers is my personal hero. He’s an inspiring example of how to get down to a child’s level and make the big, sometimes scary, realities of life understandable. Mr. Rogers was famous for saying, “What is mentionable, is manageable,” meaning that our overwhelming emotions like fear and grief can be understood by young children as long as we’re willing to talk about them.

Mr. Rogers is famous for tackling tough subjects. His programs addressed frightening, global issues, like assassination and nuclear war. Two writers for Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Arthur Greenwald and Barry Head, coined the term “Freddish” to describe how Mr. Rogers talked about these tough topics. To speak “Freddish,” you carefully choose your language, using clear, positive instructions that can apply to all children when discussing a serious issue. Read more about “Freddish” in Maxwell King’s article for The Atlantic to see it in action.

So how do we talk about the Coronavirus using Freddish? We choose unambiguous, simple phrases, and focus on the positive. This helps children stay in control of their actions. Instead of saying, “We can’t play outside with our friends today,” we can empower kids to look to their caregivers for support by saying, “Your favorite grown-ups can help you make a card to send to your friends to let them know you love them.”

Librarian Claire Petri at Woodlawn Library in Delaware, and her stuffed friend Sparkle, wear masks during a virtual storytime to address the fear kids might have
Librarian Claire Petri at Woodlawn Library in Delaware, and her stuffed friend Sparkle, wear masks during a virtual storytime to address the fears kids might have. (Photo credit: Claire Petri)

Many libraries are creating virtual programming to help caregivers begin a conversation with their young children about the Coronavirus.  Lisa Underwood, a librarian at Lower Macungie Library in Pennsylvania, created a virtual storytime with her giraffe friend, Patches.

In the storytime, she addresses a fear that young children may have when seeing someone in a mask:

“I kind of look a little silly with this mask on, like I’m trying to hide. But I’m not hiding from my friends… if you go out to a store or to a doctor and you see people wearing masks, it’s nothing that we need to be scared of.”

Librarian Claire Petri, at Woodlawn Library in Delaware, was inspired by Underwood to create a virtual storytime of her own, where she demonstrates wearing a mask, first on a stuffed animal (named Sparkle) and then on herself.

“Does Sparkle look a little funny with her mask on? I think she looks a little funny. But she doesn’t look scary… she’s still the same underneath.”

These kinds of example help caregivers discuss a concern like masks with young children, and help children move through their fears to a place of security.

No conversation about Mr. Rogers would be complete without puppets!  In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, puppets dramatized tough topics. Similarly, librarian Catherin Mori with the Glen Ellyn Public Library, in Illinois, has created a puppet show (see it here) that introduces concepts like hand-washing and staying at home. Kids are naturally drawn to puppets, so it’s a great way to open the conversation.

 
Has your library created any resources to help kids and caregivers manage their feelings in these scary times? As Mr. Rogers famously said, “Look for the helpers.” As we all know, library staff are some of the best helpers around.


Headshot of Chelsey Roos, guest blogger
Photo credit: Joshua Lieu

Today’s guest blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey is a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee and is currently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Commitment to Client Group and Programming Skills.


 

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