As I sat at my kitchen table on January 6th watching the events at the D.C. Capitol play out, I realized my 3 year old daughter was awake from her nap and she would want to see what I was working on. The thing is, I wasn’t working, I was enthralled in the news coverage and after she asked, “Why are they doing that?” I quickly realized there needed to be more of a discussion around the events in our country these past few months.
Children are perceptive, they are brutally honest and have no filter. Children are inquisitive and bound to be vessels for abundant questioning. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts to consider when broaching these events with children.
IT'S ALL ABOUT PERCEPTION WITHIN THEIR WORLD
Be mindful of your media consumption as children are ALWAYS watching and listening, even if they appear to be engaged in another activity. Use age appropriate words and ideally the words your child is using to explore their perception of what they have heard or seen. Don’t challenge this perception, it may not always be within reality or completely accurate to fact, but remember children make sense of events in reference to their lived experiences and it can be difficult for children to verbalize their observations & feelings if this is a new experience. Just helping your child verbalize their experience can help open the discussion to further explore emotions and actions.
ALLOW CHILDREN TO BE CURIOUS AND ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING
Encouraging children to distinguish between truth and untruth is an important life skill and should be encouraged when helping a child process these events. Encouraging children to ask themselves, as well as the adults in their lives, “What are the facts?” “What would you do?” and “How would you handle that?” is important in developing critical thinking related to unfamiliar emotions or events. It is also important to find the strengths or positives in these times. Being strength-based and finding a silver lining, no matter how small, helps to encourage a world of resiliency for young minds.
With all of the emotions that a child could be experiencing related to these recent events it’s important to offer reassurance. Reassure children that experiencing a range of emotions is normal and identify a list of safe people the child feels they can talk to about their experience or emotions. Check in often, children need reassurance that the adults in their life are not afraid to also talk about their emotions and checking in frequently makes the discussions feel less scary. Bring in familiar faces. When a child recognizes that their community is also having these discussions (think school, church, childcare, relatives) this builds resiliency.
A final note, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Our community has an abundance of resources both basic and professional to support parents in navigating these difficult times. If your child is a client of DABSJ, reach out to your social worker, clinician, therapist, etc. and they’d be happy to help. Or check out other resources through local organizations like Network180 and your child’s school.
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Sarah has worked in the mental health field for over 10 years, with most of her experience in working with children and families. Sarah joined DABSJ in 2017 and supervises behavioral health services and enhanced foster care services. In her free time she enjoys skiing, cooking and spending time with her husband and daughters.
Anna joined DABSJ four years ago as a Home Based Therapist, working with children and families. Anna is TFCBT trained and has extensive experience working with children in foster care. Anna supervises KSSN and TFCBT services.