Speaker uses humor to reach military kids
October 25, 2012
ESCHENBACH, Germany -- Trevor Romain, child advocate and motivational speaker, began his performance at Netzaberg Middle School, here, Oct. 18, by praising the grit of military children.
"Military kids: you guys rock. You guys in this room are so important."
He mentioned that while many civilian kids hang out watching TV, military kids endure deployments, TDY and multiple moves.
"It's hard, hard work," he added.
Throughout his assembly, Romain simultaneously enthralled his audience and left them in stitches.
When Romain told a story about his encounter with a wounded child in an Angolan hospital while deployed there with the South African army, all 500 second through sixth graders sat riveted. He spoke of the child, who would likely never walk again, asking for a hug. When Romain complied, he felt his outlook change. The audience was silent, absorbing the situation's gravity.
The atmosphere quickly lightened as Romain's story turned slapstick. He waxed energetically about "duh moments," and a fictional grandma trying to clean a moving fan and then holding on for dear life as it swung her around like a propeller.
Romain uses humor and stand-up comedy to reach kids on important issues such as bullying, divorce, cliques and health. The intent is to cultivate children's physical, emotional and social well-being in a fun, but sensitive way.
His lighthearted approach to difficult issues has catapulted his books up best-seller lists and has made Romain a popular feature on PBS. For the past four years, he has partnered with the USO to help military children tackle their unique struggles with deployed parents, wounded parents and the loss of a loved one.
The crux of his message is that having feelings, even negative ones, is normal and not shameful.
"It's OK to be angry, it's OK to be frustrated, it's OK to be sad," he told the audience. "But it's important how we manage these feelings."
After his show, Romain delved deeper into this philosophy, explaining that children who hide or suppress their feelings are more likely to lash out, turn to bad behavior and become bullies. But, those who can find someone to talk to, be it a parent, a teacher or a friend, have an emotional release and can regulate painful sentiments.
To help spread this message, Romain enlisted the help of Jack and Skye, young cartoon characters he created for his PBS show. Jack and Skye dealt with the same issues that face most kids: They struggled with homework; confronted bullies and cliques; and faced down fears.
But, in all their situations, Jack and Skye acknowledged their feelings and sought help and advice from friends, or even Romain, who popped up in cameos. This advice let the young heroes know they're not alone and led them to make confident, responsible decisions.
Both Romain and his characters affected members of his young audience. During a video song tribute to military kids and their families, some students broke down in tears. Romain's candor -- his willingness to share that he was bullied and suffers from dyslexia -- also endeared him to the children.
Post-assembly, children swarmed him, asking for advice or simply wanting a sympathetic ear.
This one-on-one counseling is an essential part of his project. Romain has visited a staggering 110,000 military kids in the past two years. Through these visits, Romain and his Chief Executive Officer Woody Englander, see what's important to military kids and what they react to.
"We're in the trenches," said Romain.
Caroleann Dancer-Torrence, 11, "loved" the assembly.
"It was pretty cool. I actually liked the videos. They teach a lot," she said.
Dancer-Torrence, a sixth-grader, just entered middle school. She explained that making the leap from elementary school has changed some of her peers.
"Some get nicer and some try to follow the crowd. Some pick the right way to go and some follow the bullies."
She added that some of these people "would make better choices" if they heeded Romain's advice.
The assembly ended on a generous note as Romain announced that all second through sixth graders in Netzaberg will receive his complete set of DVDs. And although he asked the students not to cheer, they did anyways.