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Navigating conversations with kids about the U.S. Capitol riots

Posted at 4:55 PM, Jan 08, 2021

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Anger and grief are some of the many emotions Americans are processing after witnessing the attack on our Capitol. Fixated on live news footage unfolding on television, people around the world saw images that will live on for generations.

“It was definitely an emotional feeling. To the point where I guess, like most people, I was glued to my television," said Diane Jones Lowrey, senior director of community partnerships at Common Sense Media.

The nonprofit helps parents and educators navigate the digital world with kids. Like adults, they're also trying to make sense of what happened in D.C.

“The pandemic, the racial strike we’ve had throughout the year; there’s been so many times that we’ve had to help parents have these difficult conversations. But we think this one is a little different," aid Jones Lowrey. "Because it truly is touching on the foundation of our democracy.”

Jones Lowrey wrote a blog post with tools to help parents and educators navigate conversations with children about this moment in history.

“It’s challenging for me as an adult, as a mom, to have this conversation.”

But there are strategies to help start the conversation with children of all ages.

“It really is about where they are in their development," she said.

For the youngest kids, Jones Lowrey recommends limiting or eliminating exposure to the media, as they aren't yet fully able to understand complex situations. She says kids in this age group oftentimes can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

But she recognizes limiting media exposure is not always possible and young children may hear about the news from siblings or friends.

“What you really want to do with the youngest kids is give them a sense of confidence and assurance that it's not really going to impact them, and that they’re safe, and that their family is safe," said Jones Lowrey.

She says children 8 to 12 understand what’s going on but may not comprehend specific details.

“Ask them, what are you feeling, what did you see, and what did you hear? And hear it through their eyes, hear it through their voice.”

It can also be helpful to ask how their friends are feeling, as they're likely talking to each other about the news.

Jones Lowrey says teenagers are usually very aware of what's going on and are likely getting most of their information online and from social media.

“The older you get, the more critical you need to be about the media you consume."

She recommends giving them a space to express how they feel without judgment and ask questions to help them think critically. These are some suggestions given in her blog post:

  • What are you seeing on social media or the news about the events in the Capitol?
  • How do you feel about what you see?
  • Whose perspective is being featured?
  • Whose voices are missing?

She also says to always look for teachable moments, from our democratic process to the suspension of President Trump’s social media accounts.

“Because there are consequences for the words that you say.”

She says families should also pay attention to how much news they're consuming, and that there's value in pulling away from our televisions and phones.

Another free resource for educators, an online course created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence: Managing Emotions in Times of Uncertainty & Stress. The 10-hour online course is designed for school staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, principals, and non-teaching staff in preK-12 schools.

While the violence may be dominating our screens, Jones Lowrey says it’s important to show children the whole picture.

“The perseverance of our lawmakers to come back and finish the job they started," recalled Jones Lowrey. “That, I think, shows hope to our kids. And that’s, I think, a story I think we can tell to them.”

Common Sense has more resources online to help parents talk with kids on this issue, as well as others like the pandemic and race relations in America.