No matter where you stand politically, we can all agree that yesterday’s breach at the U.S. Capitol was a very sad day for our country. We’re all still processing our shock after watching an ugly chapter in a U.S. history book come to life.
This afternoon, I was heartened to know that my son’s social studies teacher spent the class period talking to students about what happened. She told them that no matter who you voted for or what your political views are, violently disrupting the Democratic process is unacceptable and wrong. Chances are children of all ages are hearing about what happened. Here are some tips to help you talk with your kids about yesterday’s unsettling events:
Be proactive about having an age-appropriate conversation with your kids.
Whether through a friend, the television, online or via social media, the reality is that your kids are most likely aware of what happened. “They need guidance from people they trust to help them make sense of it,” Andrea Barbalich, Editor in Chief of The Week Junior US told New Jersey Family. “It can be tempting to avoid discussing it because you think it will upset your child. But telling kids the truth, in an age-appropriate way, can help them feel safe and reassured. Talking about it lets them know they can come to you with questions and gives you an opportunity to validate their feelings, whatever they may be. Discussing what happened also helps correct any facts they may have gotten wrong that could be troubling them. And it reinforces the bond between the two of you and keeps the lines of communication and trust open.”
Share the facts but keep it simple.
When I need help explaining the news to my kids, I turn to two of my favorite sources, theweekjunior.com and timeforkids.com, both news magazines for kids. The Week Junior shared a helpful and direct explanation of what happened on its Facebook page:
“The facts are that today is the day when Joe Biden’s election to the Presidency was scheduled to become official in Congress. Some people are angry about that and believe that President Trump should remain the President. Some of those people went to the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the process and express their anger. They became violent and broke into the Capitol building. The Capitol went into lockdown, and members of Congress were removed to safety.” It’s important to let kids know that order was eventually restored and Congress resumed to finish its work last night.
It’s also important not to refer to the people involved as “bad people” because that give kids a sense of only “black and white” in the world, says Dr. Linda Drozdowicz, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, NY and Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine.
Reassure children that they’re safe.
“Try to get a sense of what your child is most afraid of as it pertains to him/her,” advises Dr. Liz Matheis, a Livingston-based clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist. “For example, is your child afraid that people will force their way into your home? If so, emphasize the facts, but only a few as relevant to your child’s concerns or worries.”
Matheis adds that elementary age children usually process these events in terms of themselves, their family and their friends while teens will have a better understanding as it relates to the larger picture. “Allow them to express their thoughts and concerns with little intervention,” Matheis says.
“Encourage them to say how they feel,” says the message on The Week Junior’s Facebook page. “If you are upset or sad about what is happening, share that if you feel comfortable. Reinforce your family’s values as you feel it is appropriate—for example, by saying that you believe violence and breaking the law is wrong and that you hope no one else is hurt.”
If your younger kids are curious and continue to ask questions, PBS KIDS also has resources to help:
- A step-by-step guide on helping kids navigate scary news stories: Tips to help listen, clarify, look for the helpers, and reassure your child.
- A lesson on resilience with Arthur: What can you say to kids when upsetting events occur? Can empathy build social skills? This list of resources from Arthur can help kids build resilience when faced with unsettling events.
- Tips to expand your child’s circle of concern: This list of tips is useful when tackling tough news stories.
Limit your children’s exposure to the news.
Kids have access to social media and countless online sites through their tablets and phones and likely getting more unfiltered news than you realize. Given the frightening, and inappropriate language that can be heard in some news reports, experts agree it’s a good idea to limit your children’s exposure to the news. This means not leaving cable news on all day and monitoring what your kids are watching and reading on their devices.
“Watch the news privately on an iPad or your phone as young children or teens can very easily hear parts of messages and misinterpret, thus creating increased anxiety and low feelings of safety,” says Matheis.
Dr. Laurel Williams, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, agrees that parents should protect their children from viewing the chaos. But if they’re interested or worried, she suggests watching the news together. “Ask what they heard and learned, or what they are concerned about,” Williams says. “Then, help provide them with facts to address their questions.”
Williams also encourages fostering a sense of normalcy at home by sticking to a routine, doing activities that reflect your values as a family to help counteract feelings of helplessness and focusing on acts of kindness at home and toward others.