The Where’s Waldo series is a favorite with beginning readers. You’ve probably seen some of them. Or spent time with a favorite child trying to spot Waldo behind objects in the more pronounced foreground of the page. Sometimes he’s easy to find. You see him right away. But not always. Hard as you try, his image eludes you as he continues to hide in plain view.
The search for Waldo is a good metaphor for our search for meaning these days. The horror and destruction of the Boston Marathon bombing are easy to see. They demand our immediate attention. They will not go away.
But look a little closer. Hiding behind these painful images are the helpers. People capable of reaching out to others despite the danger around them. Their behavior holds the key to overcoming the fear and hopelessness that trauma brings.
Why? Because just as fear downshifts the brain into survival mode, compassion restores balance and social connection. Acts of kindness trigger the release of endorphins and serotonin – hormones that reduce stress and encourage people to accept help from one another. They help the brain recover and move on.
Children with early trauma histories are naturally pessimistic. They have a hard time moving beyond the destructive images in the foreground of the page. Their negative attitude limits their ability to benefit from the altruism hiding in plain sight. Acquiring a more optimistic outlook requires frequent contact with caring adults who can draw their attention to the goodness around them.
Here are some strategies you can try:
- When tragedy strikes direct children’s attention to the courage of the first responders and others willing to lend a helping hand.
- Provide children with opportunities to practice altruism. Involve them in activities like food drives, community clean-ups, and collecting supplies for military care packages.
- Model an optimistic outlook. Talk to children about how to make the best of difficult situations.
- Read children stories about characters who draw strength from adversity.
- Give children positive affirmations they can use to remain hopeful and optimistic.
For stories about extraordinary everyday helpers, check out the TED Blog at