As if the pandemic were not enough, the attack on the capitol represented another traumatic event about which we need to be speaking to our kids. The “ground rules” for addressing these situations remains the same.
First, adults need to do whatever is necessary to process the attack for themselves so they can speak with kids in a way that will allow them to focus on kids’ feelings and reactions. That is, take the time to do a sufficient emotional dialysis that you will not heighten kids’ emotions by communicating your own “raw” feelings to them. This is not to say that you should not share any feelings with kids. However, they need to be filtered and presented in a way that takes into consideration their developmental level so that they can be digested and used constructively.
Second, ask kids what they have heard or know about the attack as it has been all over social media and kids are big consumers. Listen for the accuracy of their information and their questions.
Third, minimize repeated exposure to violent media content. The events of the past week are available 24/7 and while it is essential for kids and parents to talk, there may be a tendency for kids (and even adults) to expose themselves to repeated images as a way of trying to digest and cope with the traumatic events of the past week. Find a source you can trust to get the news, and when children watch, view the news with them and discuss what they are seeing.
Third, when talking with your children, start with these general principles:
- Answer questions simply and be prepared to answer the same questions more than once. Adjust your explanations depending on the age and developmental level of your child. Remember that repeating questions is a way that children signal that they continue to have concerns.
- Do not get put off by questions or demands that seem inappropriate.
- Assure children (particularly young children) that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe. Remember that children view events through their own developmental lenses and want to know basic things like: are you safe? Will I be safe?
- Reinforce basic routines because consistency breeds a feeling of safety and control.
- Be honest. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so and offer to try to find the answer.
Here are some additional resources:
National Education Association: “Talking to Kids About the Attack on the Capitol” https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/talking-kids-about-attack-capitol