Blog: How can we help children deal with this extraordinary time

31 March 2020

c. eoin carey
c. eoin carey

SInce publishing this blog, a summary of the research referred to is now available...scroll down for more...

Children have a huge amount to deal with at the moment.  Last year we heard reports of children and young people suffering from Climate Emergency anxiety. Now they have to deal with Corona virus anxiety and some will also deal with bereavements. When we get through this, we will need a way for children to come together and try to understand what they have experienced.  And we need to find a way to help that happen.  But how can we help them deal with this extraordinary experience in their young lives? What can we do to enable them get on and enjoy their childhood?  If only there was a gym for emotional resilience...  Or a class for joy and hope…

There is.  It's called the theatre.

After this unprecedented period of social distancing and isolation, we are going to crave meaningful social contacts. Where better to find that than at the theatre? Edinburgh became a beacon for hope in 1947 when the Edinburgh International Festival was founded to 'provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit' by bringing people and artists together from around the world following World War II. Following the current global crisis we need the theatres, festivals and, crucially, the artists to still be here, ready to provide that platform of healing for us all, particularly children.

When a child goes to the theatre, they are transported to different countries, different worlds and situations.  They encounter wonderful people and unpleasant bullies. They experience the highs, the lows, the pain and the beauty of the world.  It's a full-body work out for the mind, the emotions and the imagination. 

This year’s Children’s Festival would have offered a wide range of experiences and ideas to exercise our young audience’s mind and engage their imagination.  From shows that grapple with identity, to productions that explore what it means to find friendship or what happens when you break rules. 

Now that this year’s Festival is cancelled, we are working on ways to bring creativity directly to children’s homes and support artists in the process. When this is all over, and more than ever, our children will need to experience exciting, moving theatre and dance especially made for them. I remember a Healthy Scotland campaign with the tagline “Don't do it for tomorrow do it for today”.  The sense being - don’t go out and exercise just so you avoid health issues in later life, go out and exercise so you can enjoy your life more, now.  The same goes for children’s theatre.  The Children’s Festival presents theatre and dance that challenges the intellect and engages the emotion so children can have a fuller and richer childhood, not so they can be better adults.

A recent study*, by the New Victory Theatre in New York, found that over time, when attending the theatre regularly, children developed the ability to imagine their lives differently. They could see a future for themselves that was different from the one they were living.  The work-out of the imagination in the theatre gave them the strength to develop something very special: hope. And that is something we all need at the moment.

Paul Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive, Imaginate

*A summary of the research by the New Victory Theatre can be found on pages 7 - 11 of Envisioning the Future of Theatre for Young Audiences published by the National Endowment for the Arts and TYA USA.