The fatal riots at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday are not just top of mind for you, but your kids as well. So, what’s the best way to talk to them about it?
“Kids are very resilient but they are also sponges. They pick up every cue no matter how young the child is,” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Burke, Virginia
The best course is to be calm, reassuring and start by finding out how your child is doing. Your approach to this will differ by the age of the child.
“With preschoolers, touch is key,” Patton-Smith said. “Kids this age need a lot of hugs, feel like they’re cared for, feel like they’re safe. What preschoolers don’t really need is a lot of facts and a lot of information.”
As far as discussions go, she recommended keeping it simple, letting them know they may see things on TV or hear people talk about things that make them feel unsafe, but reassure them that they are safe.
For elementary school-aged children, you can bring some facts into the conversation.
“Follow your child’s lead. Let your child lead you in what he or she wants to know,” Patton-Smith said. “It’s important first to find out how your child is feeling and what’s their understanding at this elementary age of what they’re thinking about or what they think has happened.”
When it comes to middle and high schoolers, the conversation can be taken to a deeper level.
“This is where kids are really processing, talking amongst themselves about events and this is whereas a parent you use open ended questions to get conversations started,” she said.
“Ask what they are hearing from friends. From there listen fully to what your kids are saying and then begin to have a conversation about their understanding of what is happening and what as a parent you can add to the conversation.”
Patton-Smith said parents need to monitor the information their children are getting online; such as paying closer attention to their social media accounts.
“Say: ‘Hey, I’m wondering what your friends are talking about in social media. Let me take a look and see what’s going on,'” she recommended.
If you didn’t have that kind of open relationship with your child before this, now is the time to create it.
Don’t just watch what your child’s friends are posting, look at your child’s posts and personality as they process everything.
“Each parent should know their child and if there’s any concern that your child is struggling. Sometimes negative posts and angry posts can be part of that process,” Patton-Smith said.
“If you have any changes in your child’s usual behavior that could mean there could be some underlying anxiety, depression or difficulty with adjustment that may need to be dealt with.”
She said some of those changes could include mood swings, aggression, argumentative behavior, angry posts, aggressive posts, changes in sleep or eating patterns, isolating, being away from friends and family, or losing interest in activities they usually enjoy.
Patton-Smith suggested monitoring how much time children spend online and how much television they are watching. If you are focused on the news, you may want to do some of your watching away from your kids.
“There’s sometimes an overconsumption of media,” she said, “That can create more anxiety and feelings of depression and being overwhelmed.”
Patton-Smith said parents should let their children know that if they feel scared, angry, anxious, or upset, that’s OK, and that those are normal feelings. If the feelings are too much, let them know there is help available.
She also recommended not just emotionally supporting children, but also empowering them.
“Offer our adolescents and teenagers a sense of control by offering them ways to create a positive impact during this time — donating to nonprofits, writing to legislators. These are all things that can be very helpful and can create positive teaching moments out of very chaotic difficult times,” she said.
Finally, Patton-Smith said being the parent who thinks it’s best not to talk about it or just to say “don’t worry about it” is not the best approach.
“To kind of cut it off and say ‘You’re fine. Don’t worry about it’ can sometimes have the opposite effect of having kids feel more stressed, less reassured and more overwhelmed.”