How do we talk to our kids about events like the US Capitol riot?
This past Wednesday our country shared in collective shock and sadness following the US Capitol Riot. Never before as a country have we had to experience so many losses and mind-bending concepts about who we are as Americans. How do we explain these types of events to our kids when we don’t really understand them ourselves?
I had the privilege of speaking with Kelsey Christensen of Fox 5 News about how to best help our children understand why this happened and what it means to them. One of the take-aways from our chat was how important it is that we not minimize our children’s fears and that we give them the space to talk about their fears as often as they need to.
We should normalize for them that these big feelings are real and that it is important for them to talk to their parents to help them better understand what they are experiencing. This means that parents need to be willing to have these conversations even though they may not know what to do or say. The important thing is that parents should be a safe space for their children and let them know they will never judge them for having their feelings – even if their children’s thoughts and feelings differ from their own.
A parent’s job is not to fix their children’s feelings. The worst thing parents can do when things like the US Capitol riot occur is to ignore their children, tell them to stop having the feelings they are experiencing, or fail to respond to them. This can create a child who is likely to shut down and avoid sharing their inner world with their parents. This leads to disconnection and isolation for children.
This is an excellent opportunity to teach our children to handle their losses or disappointments with grace. We can point out to them that the rioters acted as bullies and tried to harm others when they did not get their way, and this is not how we should handle things when we get mad or upset. It is perfectly normal to be angry and upset. It is not okay to try to intimidate or overpower someone who does not agree with us.
Parents are the models for their children as to the appropriate way to respond to the stimulus of the world. It’s ok to let children know that they are entitled to be unhappy when others don’t view situations the same way they do. However, we have a responsibility to our children to remind and set examples about what healthy co-existing looks like and why developing empathy for others is crucial in order to be not only a good citizen but a good person.
Learning to build an understanding of how others may experience the pain of another person’s actions encourages children to be thoughtful about how they experience their needs in ways that don’t cause harm to others. This is how children build character and resilience. Teaching our children that the way they handle disappointment is a decision and that no matter how disappointed or frustrated we are that things didn’t go the way we hoped, there is never a circumstance where violence, intimidation, or destruction of property is acceptable.
We aren’t expected to have all the answers or tools to deal with a situation we have never experienced before. Seeking support thorough therapy provides a safe place to talk about feelings and evaluate the coping skills that can be developed to help navigate the current stressors and struggles in the world. If you are struggling with your own thoughts or feelings about what happened or could use some more ideas for talking with your own children, we are here for you. Please reach out to us to schedule an appointment.