The first Waldorf School was established in 1919 in the wake of World War I. The impulse was to pioneer an education to help create a just and peaceful society. To that end, Rudolf Steiner crafted a curriculum to educate the whole child – head, heart, hands.
Receive children in reverence, educate them in love, and let them go forth in freedom – Rudolf Steiner
In spite of recent days, we must continue to believe that there is good in the world, and we must continue to educate our children to have reverence, respect and love for all living things.
But how do we speak to our children about terrible news events? In 2011, The Waldorf School of Philadelphia published an article written by Shannon Stevens. Shannon wrote the article as she was trying to process news of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Her advice for parents of young children is applicable today, about the tragic events in Paris, Lebanon and other places in the world.
We often equate parenting with the word “worry.” That is part of our job as parents, but we should not define childhood by it.
Of all the things one can simplify – toys, food, schedules – news and media is by far the hardest. In his book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne recommends reducing the amount of screen time in the home. On the best of days this can be a challenge, but can seem downright impossible on a day when there is a big news story. We find ourselves glued to the television about the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. “It is history,” “It is healing,” we justify, but this is not so for our children. For how does one explain to a young child that people are relieved because someone was killed? Even if that someone hurt many others?
For the young child it is confusing … in one way. And yet, we do tell them fairy tales where bad things happen. And that is the answer.
Fairy tales are archetypal stories – ancient – that convey what needs to be conveyed in the biggest sense without overwhelming the senses of the child.
Whereas the news is filled with a lot of people talking quickly, plus pictures, maps, graphs, explanations, questions, and theories. Lots of excitement. For our adult minds, we can process it. But for children it is simply too much.
The world was stunned by the events of 9/11. I remember dropping my children off in kindergarten and the 2nd grade that morning and heading home with my youngest. Then I heard about the twin towers. No one knew what would happen next – could Philadelphia be a target? The Waldorf School dismissed the kids early, sending a letter to remind us to protect our children from the news. This was a hard task for parents and for the teachers who taught again the next day.
I, like many others, did have my TV on a lot that first day. At one point, my 3-year-old son came into the room. A picture of Osama Bin Laden was on the screen. He looked and pointed, saying, “Santa Claus.” I scooped him up and we went in the other room. I did not contradict him. I did not tell him that the bearded man was not the patron saint of children but rather a terrorist mastermind. He did not need to know that. It would have confused him terribly.
I remember all this today as the news of Bin Laden’s’ death sinks in. My youngest is now 12, and he actually was one of the first to know (he had covertly worn earphones to bed, feigned sleep, and was listing to the Phil’s game when the report was made.). So, how does one deal with this news in regard to our children, particularly our young ones, those below the age of 9?
The truth is that the world is a safe and bountiful place filled with loving people.
Young children do not need to know about Homeland Security. For them, it need only mean a roof over their head, food on the table, and adults who love them deeply.
Yes, that is security. Not whether Osama Bin Laden is dead. So, I suggest a fairytale. The one that popped into my head this morning was “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” In it there is a bridge that cannot be crossed because a mean troll lives underneath and will eat all who try. Three goats need to cross to get to the fresh grass on the other side. The youngest goes and when confronted by the troll, says the troll should wait for the next goat because he is bigger and will make a better meal. The troll agrees and the young goat passes. The middle-size goat comes to the bridge, is confronted by the troll and has a similar conversation. The biggest goat, Big Billy Goat Gruff, now comes along. His large hoofs bang loudly on the bridge. The troll shouts and threatens from below. Big Billy Goat Gruff dares him to come up. The troll does so, but is fiercely killed. The three goats, and others, can now safely cross the stream. Of course when telling such a story to your child today, you do not need to include that Billy Goat Gruff was a Navy SEAL, trained in special ops and flying a Blackhawk helicopter! But you can get the idea: the bully is not going to win, the strong will protect the young, and life is safe and good.
So, when listening to the news, and whatever may come about in the following days, please remember the children.
Let us as adults filter out what comes to them. Each family will do this in their own way depending upon many circumstances. But if we all try to be conscious, to remember that adults and children are different, I know it will help.
– Shannon Stevens, 2011
Other resources –
Tragic Events – Mr Rogers
Explaining the News to Your Kids – Common Sense Media
Filtering Out the Adult World “ in Kim John Payne’s book, Simplicity Parenting