As father, grandfather, Hartford resident, and leader of an organization whose promise is “So every child believes in tomorrow,” I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about what we say to those children when they see and hear what’s been happening in Hartford neighborhoods and in a South Carolina church.
I’m reminded of a quote from the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
How do we help children – and parents – make sense of the violence in their communities and in sacred places? How do we help them to feel safe? How can we keep them on a path of healthy growth and development during crises and tumultuous times?
Much has been said and written about the reasons for violence in our City and across the country. Those discussions, debates and conversations are important and will hopefully yield concrete action steps – for policymakers, nonprofit, faith and community leaders. The Village has been and will continue to be engaged in those conversations, in the healing, and in positive actions to create more opportunity and hope for everyone in the community. The designation of North Hartford as a Promise Zone, which Senator Chris Murphy was instrumental in achieving, will help us bring jobs, adequate and safe housing, health and wellness care, and other services to residents of that neighborhood.
But my thoughts today are on parents and their children. I’ve heard from staff at The Village that some children aren’t attending our preschool program on time, or sometimes they stay home because their parents don’t feel it’s safe to go out in their neighborhood. One case manager, while visiting a family, said that she was greeted cheerfully outside the home by the mom, only to hear gunfire. Mom immediately escorted her inside her home and locked the door behind them. Tragically, several of our clients have lost a family member, friend or neighbor to gun violence in the last few weeks.
Neighborhood violence and trauma creates a high level of anxiety and fear – what experts are calling “toxic stress.” Opportunity (tomorrow) is harder to visualize through all the chaos and emotion.
So what can we tell our children and grandchildren – whether you live in Hartford, Bloomfield, Manchester, Glastonbury, Simsbury or Suffield?
- Their family will do everything possible to keep them safe – physically and emotionally.
- Most people are good, caring people who want the best for their children and their families – a good education, opportunities to get a job they enjoy, and a bright future.
- Only a small number of people are creating the violence.
For parents in neighborhoods where violence has occurred, I’d encourage them to:
- Stay engaged in your child’s school. Let the teacher know if your child is anxious or afraid.
- Keep your child active, with organized and supervised activities.
- Create calm, safe spots in your home to read, snuggle and talk…and to comfort and reassure your child if he or she is worried.
Talking to our children about racism and racial violence – no matter what race or ethnicity we are – is tough. But not talking about it is not the answer. As parents, we need to create a safe, open environment for children to share their fears and test their thoughts. We can respond honestly and with consideration for their age and temperament. It’s hard to give generalized advice about exactly how to respond, because it depends on the child, his or her age and circumstance – what they’ve seen or heard about violence and racism. But if you encourage the conversation, they’ll tell you what they need from you.
Here are a few articles that provide more guidance:
Often, when we’re stressed, we retreat. But this is a good time to reach out to your friends, neighbors and others in your community…to keep an eye out for each other, support each other’s children and ask for help from law enforcement and neighborhood groups with your safety concerns.
And, if you are concerned about the level of your child’s anxiety, please contact us at The Village. Our staff are trained in many ways to help children deal with fear and anxiety and learn coping skills.