On January 6, 2021, a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Inside, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were meeting to certify the results of the Electoral College, thus officially making Joe Biden the future 46th President of the United States. Instead, the mob took over the building, leaving death and destruction in its wake. For families who may have been watching the events unfold in real time, it posed a series of questions, the most important being how to explain the Capitol riots to your child.
2020 saw its fair share of riots, protests, and civil unrest. But no one could have imagined seeing people scaling the sides of the Capitol Building in an attempted insurrection of the government that left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. And for children who are already reeling from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, remote learning, and an overall upheaval of everyday life, this latest incident of violence might be too much to bear. “Some of the emotions kids are going through right now can be very scary,” Denise Daniels, PhD, Child Development and Parenting Expert and creator of The Moodsters, a children’s brand designed to teach kids the fundamentals of feelings tells Celebrity Parents. That’s why, now more than ever, parents should have open discussions with their children to help them understand what’s happening and how they’re feeling about it.
Address The Issue Of Violence
There’s no getting around the fact that the events that occurred at the Capitol were violent. So you should talk to your child about what happens when they have a problem—and more importantly, how do they solve it. “Parents need to know that unless we want our children to be violent, we need to ask ourselves, as parents, how do we approach conflict? How do we handle our own anger? Do we become violent?,” says Daniels. “If you want your child to avoid being violent, we have to model our behavior for our children.” Offer some examples of non-violent resolutions (such as some of the peaceful protests from the Black Lives Matter marches last year) as a sign that violence isn’t a means to an end.
Help Them With Coping Strategies
Although, as parents, you’d like to help your child in every possible predicament, there will be times when they have to figure out solutions themselves. And that’s when resilience really works. “Teach them resilience and strategies to help them cope with anger, sadness, being afraid, which are the top three upset feelings,” says Daniels. For example, you might explain the importance of taking turns, or realizing that they won’t always get their way sometimes—and that’s okay. Allow them to sit with their feelings and process them so that they feel validated and heard.
Offer Some Context
Sure, it might seem like all doom and gloom lately (and 2021 is starting off feeling like 2020’s evil stepsister). But even though the Capitol riots were shocking and saddening, there is still so much good to focus on. “Put the world in context for our kids,” agrees Daniels. Try showing them the good people (like the police officers) who came to the aid of those in need. Show them how the House of Representatives and the Senate still managed to rise to the occasion and certify the Electoral College votes, despite having to adjourn during the riots. And make sure that your children see that, just like Mr. Rogers said, the helpers are always there during those scary moments.
Continue The Conversation
The Capitol Riot might be over, but its ripple effect is still being felt. That might explain why your child is still struggling with what happened. So allow your kiddo to come and talk to you if something is bothering them or if they think of new questions to ask. “Ask yourself, what are they hearing on the playground?” says Daniels. “Give them the opportunity to ask questions and be proactive about giving them the information you want them to have.” She suggests by having regular family meetings once a week, particularly when something unsettling like this happens. “Having this conversation now prepares kids for the future and gives them coping skills for when they are angry.”
Sadly, there’s no way to ensure that something like this won’t happen again. That’s why you should offer encouragement to your child that they’ll be okay and that we will get through this as a nation—and as a family, too. “Give them reassurance by sharing your family’s belief system, whatever it is,” says Daniels. And then work together by first limiting the amount of exposure to the news that they have, and understanding how to process their emotions in a healthy way.
Although every parent on the planet wants to protect their children from life’s sometimes harsh realities, it’s imperative to give them the skills to not only survive tough times, but thrive from them as well. Understanding how to explain the Capitol rights to your child might not be a conversation you want to have, but absolutely should. That way, your child can be prepared with the coping skills they’ll need in the future, and be armed with kindness and compassion that is so desperately needed right now.