I imagine that after watching ugliness unfold in our nation’s capital during our first week of 2021, like me, you questioned the fresh breath of hope you experienced when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve.
Wednesday’s events rocked me to my core. I have been reflecting on all of the additional work we will now need to do to heal our country and prove to ourselves and the watching world, that we are indeed “indivisible” and “one nation under God.” And as I sat transfixed in front of the tv, I was keenly aware of my children sitting next to me. But I could not turn the television off, and I could barely speak. I regret I let Owen watch the news unfold that night for several hours.
Wednesday night when Owen came downstairs to let me know he couldn’t sleep, and that he was scared and felt sad, I had the realization that it was time to begin processing and healing at home.
As we work through the events last week and look to the Inauguration next week, I just wanted to offer you some ideas and thoughts that might help your children process the events of last Wednesday and beyond.
First, try to use the news as a learning opportunity, not entertainment. With children, it is important not to let them interpret the news. Most of our children, especially younger children, don’t need a lot of explanation or language. But they do need help understanding the big picture and reassurance that despite the very sad events of January 6, 2021, they are safe.
Children are watching the events unfold. Just like you may have felt, they will also sense the instability of our country. I think it is powerful is to remind kids that our country has existed for over 200 years. We have a process that has withstood the passage of time over and over again. Even though Wednesday was a scary, messy day, the democratic process prevailed. Lynn Lyons, a noted child psychologist, talks a great deal about how “anxiety needs a plan.” Talk about the election process, what they can expect in the upcoming weeks, whatever provides a deeper understanding that a structure exists.
Next, help your child identify how they feel. Many of our children are “energy sponges” and although they feel things deeply, they may not actually be able to tell you what that feeling is. I used to have a mini-poster with emoji’s on it and for my students with language challenges, I would have them point to the emoji and give them the word. Naming a feeling helps a child begin to work through it.
I have learned to not assume that I know and understand how the kids are responding to events. Don’t be surprised if what you thought your child was feeling, is not what you expected. For example, a few years ago I heard from a parent that the family dog had been hit by a car in front of my student. Autumn starting crying during my reading class and as I tried to comfort her and talk about Scooby, she interrupted me and said, “Mrs. Bamford, I am NOT crying about the dog, my mom wouldn’t let me go to my friend’s house today.” Feelings are feelings, try not to judge them.
Adult behavior can definitely impact children. Our “energy sponges” tend to absorb adult stress. Marc Brackett from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says there is something called “emotional contagion.” Often especially with younger kids, you will see them begin to mimic you. If you are teary, they might be. If you are short-tempered, your little person may reflect that energy as well. If you find yourself getting frustrated with your child’s behavior, just check-in with yourself and see how you are feeling. Some days we all might need a little timeout!
Another idea is to talk about your family’s core values. Talk about your family’s “code of conduct” and what you as a family stand for. As someone with the distinct pleasure of knowing your children, there are many positive character traits they exemplify. Remind them of those positive traits when you see or hear examples of bad behavior. For example, when witnessing acts of violence, you might say, “Our family believes in working our problems out with words. Violence is never a solution.” When someone is belittling another person, respond with “we treat other people with respect even if we have a different opinion.”
Finally, be honest with your children. If you articulate an emotion you are feeling or something you are trying to work through, couple any negative emotion with a positive, growth mindset idea or action. If you are confused about what is going on, it’s perfectly fine to let your kids know you are trying to understand what happened by finding more facts. If you are angry about the situation, let your children know you are angry at the situation, not them. However, it might take a while for you to work through it.
Our children, like us, now have this day as part of their history. Someone will ask them, “Where were you on January 6, 2021?” I thank you for helping them to preserve, strengthen, and grow in order to see the beauty of our nation as they become good citizens of our beloved country.
Meg Bamford is the Head of Radcliffe Creek School in Chestertown