“Kasserian ingera.” This is the traditional greeting passed down between an untold number of generations the legendary Maasai warriors of Kenya and Tanzania (on the east coast of the African continent). The phrase translates to mean, “And how are the children?”
The phrase is still the traditional greeting among the Maasai, acknowledging the high value that the Maasai place on the children’s well-being.
The traditional answer, “All the children are well,” communicates to the person asking that peace and safety prevail for the children, and that life is good because the community’s priorities for protecting the young and powerless were in place.
What does this have to do with the state of our children here in the U.S.? Everything. See, the Maasai believed and still believe that if the children are healthy and happy, so too will be the village, the community, the nation. I believe we can stand to learn a great deal from their perspective.
Today, our children are dealing with multiple crises, from the effects of the year’s long pandemic, the threat and reality of global wars, the dramatic and immediate threats to their lives posed by gun violence, the abject poverty many of us are dealing with, as well as the challenges of simply being Black in a majority white America.
To help us adults, parents and other youth caregivers, cope and pass wisdom and guidance to our children, the organization I worked with often utilized a booklet from the National Child Development Institute for African American Families titled “Helping Children Cope with Crisis.”
Here are two simple strategies from that book that can help us better support our children:
Have an Emergency Plan
What do we do in case of emergency? Who do we call in cases of emergency? Having a plan in place for dealing with emergencies can reduce your child’s fears and can help them feel safe. An example of a simple family emergency plan will include 1) a safety card which includes important and vital numbers such as 911 and the cell phone number of the parent(s) or guardian(s); 2) the child’s address which is critical for children to learn and know by heart; 3) the names and contact info of five (5) safe and trusted people your child can contact if they cannot reach you.
Keep Tabs on Your Child(ren)’s Well-Being
Depression is real, even for children. And these days, especially for children. They too just came off a nearly two-year dramatic shift in all that they had come to know and expect as normal. The COVID-19 pandemic shutting down normal operations across the country and world impacted our children too. Going to school and learning, along with socializing was a regular part of their normal life routines. All of that was abruptly upended.
For some children, they had little-to-no face-to-face interaction with teachers and friends. Zoom class sessions, according to teachers and researchers, proved to be a poor substitute for allowing our children to grow academically/intellectually, with many falling behind in multiple school subjects. According to one analysis, the pandemic left K-12 students on average five months behind in math and four months behind in reading.
Moreover, several social scientists are reporting that youth social growth has been stunted, as well. Several studies have reports that over 35% of parents feel “very or extremely concerned about their children’s mental health. And with good reason.
In a 2020 survey of 1,000 parents around the country facilitated by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, 71% of parents said the pandemic had taken a toll on their child’s mental health, and 69% said the pandemic was the worst thing to happen to their child. A national survey of 3,300 high schoolers conducted in spring 2020 found close to a third of students felt unhappy and depressed much more than usual.
And though it has always been a good idea to ask your child(dren) how he, she or they are doing, it is more important now than ever. Simply asking your child(ren) 1) How are you feeling today and 2) Is there anything in particular bothering you today can provide you with an all-important window into their well-being, and could signal a need for you to seek help and support for your child.
About Geynille Agee:
Geynille Agee’s career working with parents and children expands across several decades and includes working with the Michigan Metro Girl Scouts; serving as an Infant Stimulation, Child Development Specialist at Mental Health Mental Retardation of Houston; Community Involvement Coordinator, Communicable Diseases, Houston Health Department; Executive Consultant, Community Mental Health Associates; and Adult Facilitator Trainer, National Black Church Initiative—Keeping it Real