Children have a voice. And they need to express that voice and caring adults who listen.
In his orphanage, Janusz Korczak created a Children’s Court. There, the students upheld the school’s constitution by acting as judge and jury of their peers. Even if the court comprised only teachers and administrators, the message would have been the responsibility to the community. With the children themselves acting in these roles, it was they who led in maintaining their community.
Fred Rogers was another beloved figure who took children—what they said and how they felt – seriously. He related to their fears, concerns, and sadness in everyday situations. And he addressed frightened children publicly during times of profound crisis: in 1968, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on live TV; in 2001, with the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The heads of state of three countries, Norway, New Zealand, and Finland have followed these examples.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg in March 2020 held a press conference to address the worries of children in her country. “Many children think it is scary,” Ms Solberg said, “It is okay to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.” She reminded children that they are not at high risk of suffering major ill effects, but they can play an important part to protect older people and others who are vulnerable. She held a second telecast in April, after which she answered questions, such as when they would be able to visit their grandparents again. Norway has national day, May 17, as a celebration of children.
Declaring the Easter Bunny an essential worker, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern ensured that springtime would still hold magic for her country’s children. Even before then, in March, the Prime Minister convened a conference to address the fears of children. “Kids ask a lot of questions most of the time, and right now they understandably have plenty about COVID-19,” said the Prime Minister. Accompanying her was a child-development specialist, Dr. Michelle Dickinson. “The kids just had questions about the virus, how they are transmitted, how to keep their grandparents safe, how does soap work,” she said.
On Friday, April 24, the Government of Finland, comprising Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Minister of Education Li Andersson, and Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen, dedicated a time to answer from children ages 7 to 12. They have many concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. What does the pandemic mean? When can we go back to school? What about those of us graduating?
This is Finland’s National Child Strategy. Based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), itself inspired by the teachings of Janusz Korczak, the initiative sets out to “formulate a vision for a child and family-friendly Finland that spans government terms and crosses administrative boundaries. The Child Strategy will be based on information and research evidence, and it will promote the implementation of the CRC.”
In this time of crisis, three world leaders gave children a voice. What did they have in common? They were all women. And back in March, for the sake of the children of America, our future, I hoped, I thought a woman would be next… to be our next leader.
Addendum: The New York Times on Friday, May 1, published an editorial recognizing three outstanding leaders. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand is one of them. The others are Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. All three are women.