CNN Parenting

To our kids, after tragedy: 'People are good, not bad'

Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. Share your insight at the CNN Parenting Facebook page.

(CNN)Every mass shooting, act of terrorism and hate crime I read/watch/hear about in the news chips away a piece of my heart and makes me want to pull my daughters close, as if my hugs can protect them. But ultimately, none of these tragedies reduces my faith in humanity.

The simple reminder that our nature, as a species, is fundamentally good is a topic I addressed more philosophically in a separate column. But this message is even more vital to convey to our children, who need to feel safe instead of scared and hopeless. They need our help to make sense of the world and carry it forward in the right direction.
When faced with clear, ethical choices, the vast majority of us choose good over bad and even good over neutral. Studies from the Yale Infant Cognition Center have shown that young babies -- after watching a puppet show in which one puppet demonstrated selflessness and another selfishness -- were much more likely to choose the selfless puppet as their favorite. Other studies have shown that infants will spontaneously help an adult who seems to be in need -- such as trying to get to something that's out of reach -- without any incentives.

Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. It considers old problems in new ways, and new problems that previous generations didn't face.

There's also fascinating research about how altruism spikes after disasters. Given that people are suffering themselves, it would be logical for individuals to be more, not less, selfish in times of hardship. One study pointed out that not only do people come together to help each other after a crisis -- prolonged ice storms in Quebec, in this case -- but the crime rate in the city decreased in the days after the storms.
    In the past year, a whole meme developed around related wisdom attributed to children's public television preacher Fred Rogers: "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." The advice was something his mother would tell him when he watched scary news.
    I paraphrase it to my daughters when they become aware of a tragic event, such as a school shooting, because they feel that they can't do anything about tragedy, and they should find comfort and hope that others are doing something.
    "Most people want to help when they see someone who is in trouble," Michael Leannah writes in his 2017 book "Most People," a children's book that speaks precisely to the message that we all need to be repeating to the next gene