[Moore, T. 2003. Making the World Safe for Our Children. In Children and Families, 17 (Summer): 14, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

These are tense times for Head Start children and families. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and even parents in the military have been deployed to Iraq, first for war, now for reconstruction. Here at home, some parents have been laid off in the struggling economy. Others are chronically unemployed and have few marketable skills. Children in your care feel all these tensions, whether they voice their worries or not. As their teacher, you can do a great deal to help them cope with anxiety. Try these steps to show your children that even in challenging times the world remains a good and safe place.

For children…

1. Encourage more softness in the classroom. Fill a quiet corner in your learning center with stuffed animals or other soft toys.

2. Provide opportunities for important talk. During circle time, allow a few more minutes for children to describe their experiences. You might ask if anyone has a family member in the military and build your conversation around the work those people do.

3. Offer activities that promote work skills. Children can begin learning at an early age the basic work skills they’ll need throughout their lives. These skills include the ability to problem-solve, negotiate, work cooperatively with others, make eye contact during a conversation, follow rules, and clean up after themselves. As a setting for practicing these skills, consider turning one of your learning centers into a grocery store, doctors office, or clothing store. This allow children to pretend to be workers.

4. Encourage peaceful play. This is a good time to emphasize noncompetitive games. If some children routinely bring toys to school that promote violence, encourage parent coordinators to talk with their parents to explain how they can help promote peaceful play.

5. Encourage service to others. Rotate which child gets the honored job of setting the table at snack time. Encourage children to thank their friend who’s serving them. Look for other ways children can help each other, including holding open a door, sharing toys, or returning a lost or dropped item. And be sure to thank the children when they assist you. 6. Show children how to vote. Try this game. Invite children to raise their hands if their favorite color is red, then blue, and so on. Record their preferences on a large poster board and hang it in class. The same game can work with favorite foods, animals, or other categories. This process helps children understand that their preferences matter. It also shows them how to record preferences and show results – a basic concept behind voting.

For parents…

1. Keep children away from the news on television. Even in the best of times, many images on television news are too frightening for young children. No child should have to see bombings, shootings, or other violence on TV. And although children this age are too young to understand economic news, they do grasp when grown-ups are crying, anxious, or frightened. Ask your parent coordinator to speak with parents about the negative effects of television news. If at all possible, parents should watch the news only when their children are away or asleep. Neither parents nor teachers should use television as a baby-sitter, especially when the news is on.

2. Offer help to parents who want it. Collaborate with your parent coordinator to identify parents who need help. Encourage the parent coordinator to learn about resources for parents who are looking for jobs. The parent coordinator can also find out about services for military families when a parent is away on duty.

3. Listen if parents confide in you. Use your people skills to determine if the parent is just looking for a sympathetic ear or for help beyond that. Your gut instincts can let you know how much support is appropriate. Be aware that not everyone who comes for help is ready to make changes in their lives. In your classroom, be aware and compassionate. Perhaps your children are acting out more than usual. They might be reacting to what’s happening at home. A poor economy and trouble abroad can heighten the stress in all families. Your patience and support will help children get through difficult times.

© Thomas Moore, 2003 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.