In the last year, our kids have lived through a lot of history. Incredibly, that history now includes an armed insurrection at the United States Capitol building. As parents and caregivers, starting a conversation about these events with our kids can be daunting. It helps me to remember three things: 1. Make it age appropriate. 2. Make it an ongoing conversation. 3. Make sure to discuss the bad and the good – look for balance.
An age-appropriate approach is key when we’re tackling tough topics, especially because younger kids can have a harder time understanding time and space. Things that are happening a thousand miles away sometimes feel right next door to them. To avoid confusion, we usually begin with really simple language. For my five-year-old, I said something along these lines; “You might’ve heard us talking about something scary that happened at the Capitol building. That building is in our country, but it’s a long way away from where we live. We are safe”. After that, I will elaborate based on their questions and ability to understand.
When we first brought up the Capitol event with our kids, I asked them if they’d like to tell me what they had heard. This is a method we learned from a fabulous therapist friend, and it’s been a really effective way to clear up misconceptions and fill in gaps in their understanding. My kids love a chance to explain what they’ve heard, and it gives us the opportunity to discover where they’re confused. It also helps avoid information overload – we don’t have to repeat what they already know, just affirm it.
The youngest wanted to share her version of events; “Ok so, it’s just like some people were angry because they heard lies about voting, and those angry people used their bodies instead of their words. And then they made super bad choices…… And they hurted people and said mean things, but then the police got them all out of the America building. And then the helpers and carers cleaned up the mess. Even though it wasn’t their mess!”
I told her that yes, she was right. Angry people did break into the Capitol, and the police helped keep Congress safe. The Capitol carers did really important cleanup work, and that way all of the members of Congress could finish their job and certify that America voted to have Joe Biden be the president.
As we address these difficult topics, holding space for an on-going conversation is so important. We don’t want One Big Discussion. As parents, teachers, and caregivers, what we’re aiming for is an open conversation. That allows us to fill in gaps as we go and creates an atmosphere where tricky topics are less daunting for everyone.
I also really love to share the stories of ordinary citizens working for justice. I’ve found myself repeatedly incorporating the timeless advice of Mr. Rogers – “look for the helpers.” It is incredibly valuable to remind our kids that even in the face of violence and injustice there are always good people doing hard work, often far outside of the limelight.
Examples of this are everywhere. Eugene Goodman, the brilliant and heroic Capitol Police Officer, who drew a mob toward himself and away from the not-yet secured door to the floor of the Senate. If your kids aren’t quite old enough to process that part of the story, you could tell them about the Capitol custodian staff that worked late into the evening, cleaning and repairing the Capitol building after a violent mob tore through it. Their work allowed the process of democracy to continue.
To help my kids grasp this in a more tangible way, we decided to make thank you notes to send to the Capitol staff. When I told my girls that we could send a note, the five-year-old said; “well, you know what I’m thinking? We are gonna need a sparkletastic lot of hearts and rainbows! Can we use the fanciest pens?”
If you’re also searching for something positive to do with your kids as you help them process, please feel free to join us in sending a sparkle-tastic number of hearts and rainbows to the inspiring staff at the US Capitol.
When we talk to our children about events like this; let’s remember to be age-appropriate, hold space for ongoing conversation, and tell them the bad and the good. We can teach them to be engaged citizens. They can be the ones who write a note. Who speak out. Who grab a garbage bag, roll up their sleeves, and pitch in with the cleanup. Even when there’s no spotlight. Perhaps especially then.
Addresses to send your cards to the Capitol staff:
Architect of the Capitol
Washington DC 20515
Ford House Office Bldg
2nd St SW
Washington DC 20024
For more ways to bring social justice to the little ones in your life, sign up for the LJL newsletter here.