A personal reflection on the Christchurch tragedy.
Listening to and reading about the tragic events that occurred in Christchurch last week and the Masterclass of Leadership executed with such compassion and humility by New Zealand’s young Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has restored my view of humanity and prompted deep reflection. I reflected firstly on my own initial reactions of shock, of extreme sorrow, of pain, of shame, of fear, of anger and then, like the rest of the world on the careful words expressed, on the respectful actions, on the vulnerability and courage displayed by Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern has bravely vocalised the thoughts of many, words that have resonated with people from one end of our troubled world to the other. Unlike many political leaders of the past who have taken the “O con noi o contro di noi”, You’re either with us or against us, stance, Jacinda Ardern has chosen her words carefully, adopting a position of openness, calling for unity, for people to be as one through shared stories, through tragedy and their shared grief. The sharing of stories allows for difference, for cultures to co-exist, bringing all back to the baseline; a shared humanity. When visiting one of the local high schools, Jacinda Ardern was greeted by a solemn rendition of the Haka and, after she addressed the group and invited queries and concerns, “How are YOU?” was the question that came from one of the students. An expression of compassion and empathy suggesting that the words delivered by their leader reverberated strongly and were understood by her young audience as heartfelt and genuine.
In previous writing, I have referred to the wisdom of Brene Brown and her perspective on our great need as human beings to belong and, to do so successfully requires, integrity, authenticity, and a personal commitment that we must carry in our hearts. Ardern’s address displayed true empathy, great courage and a level of respect and civility rarely witnessed by political leaders; traits identified even by the young. Jacinda Ardern has been an active participant; from the very moment she was given the terrible news of the tragedy staying very present daring to avoid hostility and negativity. The world’s response to the way this human tragedy has unfolded has affirmed my belief in people as inextricably connected and our yearning to be part of something bigger than us.
How do we, as educators and significant adults in the lives of our young, instil the strength of character displayed by Jacinda Ardern?
How do we help them develop these vital interpersonal skills, the ability to
think critically and assist them in finding the courage to accept constructive criticism and think ‘we’, not ‘us and them’? The power of words to inspire and, sadly to hurt, along with the strength to resist the default position of ‘us and them’ is a daily challenge that exists beyond the classroom, beyond the playground and sometimes, into our community. This default position of ‘us and them’ rears its ugly head regularly in
playground politics where little cliques of two or three band together to exclude others and create an inner sanctum for the chosen few. The way forward appears to be in instilling empathy and developing a shared
humanity through compassion. Recognising the emotion and developing the skills to own and manage the actions that follow requires regular support and calm, yet firm intervention.
Emotional Learning at Yavneh
The staff at Yavneh are working closely with one another and our children to promote healthy, positive relationships. We ensure altercations between children, whether they occur in the classroom or in the playground, are dealt with openly and honestly. Although young, our children have great capacity to recognise when one is hurting and, with careful guidance, can be helped to find the words and actions that can heal and repair. Identifying and regulating emotions and developing greater emotional literacy knowing when someone is upset, angry,frustrated is an ongoing focus for our staff and children. Restorative conversations, self-reflection and peer mediation are strategies we employ to assure our children that we are listening, that we understand their emotions and the feelings that well-up inside them.
If your child has been overwhelmed by the event in Christchurch, or you are eager to help them better understand and cope with the many worldwide devastating events that have occurred of late, there are many websites and professionals to guide and assist. The following website was suggested by a psychologist.
Also, Michael Grose, parenting expertoffers some sound advice on this very issue. He says that ‘while we’d like to protect our children from such events, in reality it’s impossible, as the news coverage is so widespread and the event itself has impacted so many people. The personal nature of this particular tragedy makes it even harder to stomach than some recent natural disasters that have made the news, as awful as they have been.’
His key recommendations include:
Be available to your child. Let them know it’s OK to talk about the events in Christchurch. Listen to their thoughts and feelings. By listening you will work out if they have misunderstood and what more you need to explain. But don’t over explain. They don’t need to hear more than they can readily process.
Actively engage in the news with older children. Older children will want to engage more fully. Be prepared for conversations that lead into other connected areas: gun control, political will and decision making and the nature of media coverage may all be issues which emerge.
Filter the news. Michael Grose is certainly not advocating for censorship, but he does say we should take particular care about the exposure our children receive to news events. This relates particularly to the types of images they may see, and the news often doesn’t give much warning when something confronting is about to be shown. Watching the news should be something a family does together so that the adults can help explain what is being heard and seen.
Manage emotions raised. Sometimes the news can be upsetting, and parents need to be able to understand how they may be feeling. Statements like ‘It’s understandable to be angry when you hear news like this’, permit you to acknowledge their emotions.
Moderate your language. At school, we often hear our children make statements about events. These quite clearly are repeated from those things they hear said at home. The problem with this is that they may well not have the breadth of knowledge of the background to an event or an understanding of the implications of it, to determine if this is really their view at all. It is important to try and avoid ‘value-laden’ language when discussing events in front of your children.
…and finally, tell your children how much you love them, give them a hug and add a prayer for the parents around the world who are not able to hug their children this evening.
Author: Yianna Pullen Head of Primary General Studies