Teaching kids to help after a tragedy


When a mass shooting, a bombing or a natural disaster happen, kids have questions. Here's how community involvement can provide a place to start tough conversations with your children.

“My mother used to say, ‘Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.’ Because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope,” is the famous Fred Rogers quote."

Sarah Aadland was listening to the news with her then 4-year-old when she heard the news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. “I tried to explain it in a four-year-old sort of way,” Aadland said. “I was telling her people's houses were gone and people got hurt and she gave me a hug and looked at me with a very serious way and said ‘How are we going to help?’

That simple question started a family lifestyle of serving others. Sarah and her 3 kids now volunteer and practice kindness as a family with an organization called Doing Good Together.

“The biggest thing that I've seen in my own children and and some of our pilot families’ children is just the empowerment they feel,” Aadland said. “Kids that habitually give back that have a kindness activity just rolled into their life almost every day, they look at problems and don't get frustrated and don't sit there and say ‘who's going to fix this problem?’ They immediately look for the solutions.”

Child psychologist Dr. Dan Daly agrees. “Empathy is a learned skill. One of the ways we teach empathy at Boys Town is community service. Boys will go to rest homes elderly facilities and play chess with people who might have Alzheimer's or are aging and infirm or go to the mission and serve meals to people down on their luck,” Dr. Daly said. “Empathy is also taught by just giving of yourself.”

And it’s a skill that has proven very useful to Sarah’s children when tragedy strikes. “When those big catastrophes strike, when there is a devastating shooting, I do feel like I have a playbook; a way to approach them that I know is not going to scare them but it's going to let them know here's what happened; here's what you might be hearing at school,” she said.

“After the Orlando shooting, the story about the dogs, the counseling dogs that came in to comfort people, that made my 11-year-old so happy, and her next step was ‘well how can we train a dog like that? Can we foster a dog to train to comfort people?’” Aadland said. “So, having that volunteering, that ‘how can we help?’ lens on things, it makes everything a little less scary; it makes it feel like when we can help, we will be the people that are helpers.”

If you’re looking for some simple ways to teach everyday kindness and get started with family volunteering here’s a link to the Doing Good Together website and Sarah’s “Big Hearted Families” blog.

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