Helping kids handle the tough lessons in our history

We can’t erase the past, but we can empower kids to make a better future

Cynthia Peloquin is a high school English teacher. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, daughter, son, and their boxer/lab, Capone.

My husband discovered a cartoon about the Revolutionary War. He’s a history buff, so he was psyched to sit and watch it with our kids, who are five and seven. By the time I got back from errands, it was off, and my daughter was telling me how she hated it because they were so mean to a man.

The debate about whether tarring and feathering is appropriate for a children’s show is a discussion for another day. The fact is, my seven-year-old had just learned about tarring and feathering, and it was haunting her thoughts. It was still on her mind as she got ready for bed, and she was in tears.

We talked about how that show took place a long time ago, but that bad things do happen in this world, and that stinks. We talked about how that was a kind of bullying, and we talked about what she would do if she saw bullying at school.

Then, we had to figure out how to get her brain to relax enough to fall asleep.

Round one: Reading happy, easy books (for her, that’s I Can Read books). I gave her 5. She was still wide awake.

Round two: Listening to music, specifically The Lion King. This required me finding a CD player in the attic, and the CD. She’s glad to have a CD player in her room, but no dice on falling asleep.

Round three: Reading a hard book that would tire her out. Enter Bad Kitty. She read the whole thing. Still awake.

Round four: I cuddled her for a bit. Our kids never fall asleep if we lay down with them, so I knew staying wouldn’t help, but I figured she needed to talk more. She said she was just so sad that had ever happened to anyone. I told her that I’m sad anyone ever experienced that, too, and I hate that there’s nothing I can do to change things in the past.

As we talked, my mind went to the school shootings and climate change and migrant children in camps, and I started wondering if I’d fall asleep.

How do I slow down when my mind is racing with things that make me sad? I figure out what I can do around that issue and resolve to do it. I try to make my little pocket of the world better.

I thought that might work for a first-grader, too, so I suggested that Ginny think of nice things she could do at school the next day. I told her that it stinks that you can’t change all the bad things in the world, but you can try to make the world a little better again through your actions. I suggested that she lay down and think of the nice things she could do at school to make the world better again — could she help a classmate? Compliment her teacher?

That was the last time I had to go into Ginny’s room. I think brainstorming nice things to do makes you feel a little more in control when the world feels out of control, and the truth is, the better you make the world, the easier it is to live in it.

That’s going to be our new mantra at our house, because that protective bubble we put them in as babies and toddlers is just going to keep popping, and one day they’ll learn about slavery and the Holocaust and 9/11. I struggled to sleep for days after Sandy Hook.

There will be other tough nights. Instead of counting sheep, I’ll encourage my kids to brainstorm ways to make their classroom, their town, and their world a little better. It’s my responsibility to give them strategies to get a good night sleep, because tomorrow, I want them to get out there and change the world.

Categories: My Turn