Yesterday, was a difficult day for many of us. For me, it was a culmination of not just the past several years, but the several hundreds of years of our history here in the United States. I received texts, emails, and saw posts on various social media channels as well as every news outlet. It was a major national event. As I was trying to process the events as they unfolded, I realized that my husband and I would have to also process this together with our daughter. Late in the evening and early this morning, I received many emails and was pointed to posts about how to process and talk about what’s happening. I want to acknowledge the importance of processing this together as a household and family. I offer my five tips here for having these kinds of conversations.
Tip 1: Process your own feelings. I cannot stress this enough. What are you feeling about what’s happening? Take a moment to identify them and ask yourself why you are feeling them? I know that I felt quite distraught as the Capitol building was being breached and even more so when I heard that weapons had been drawn and shots fired. I started to cry at my desk and when I emerged, it was clear that I was visibly upset. I told my family that I was having a hard time and that I was going to go to the grocery store. When I got in my car, I blasted some music, yelled, prayed, and thought about my grocery list that I hastily stuffed in my pocket. For me, it’s what I needed to do – physically step away from social media and the news, do something (because I needed to do something since I felt quite helpless), and yell/pray. Explain to your family, especially your children, why you might be feeling upset, or feel like you need some space.
Tip 2: Name and talk about feelings. Speaking of feelings, maybe you were mad and you said something – explain it and name that feeling. Help your kids to name their own feelings. You could use a feelings chart to help them identify and describe what they might be feeling. For teens and older kids, validate the feelings they might be having and listen to them. Talk about how it’s okay to have all these feelings and why they might be having these feelings. Take time to hear what they are saying and for younger kids, you may need to help them name, describe and explain what those feelings are. Let them lead the conversation. If your child saw images on the news or social media, use that as a springboard to name and process what they saw and what the people in their images may have been feeling (such as the police officers, those who incited the event, the neighbors, the Congress people who were in the building and then had to be evacuated, people of color, people who voted differently, and so on).
You can also use this opportunity for some creativity. Try having your kids draw, color, or write what they are feeling. If they were a color, what color would they be feeling? You could also use things like playdough or Legos. One of the ways that my daughter processes feelings is by painting. I’m not a great painter, but it’s one way that I can join her and exercise my own creativity to help me figure out how I’m feeling and to de-stress from high emotions/situations.
Tip 3: Talk about the facts of what happened. Depending on the age of your child(ren), let them know about what happened. If you have toddlers or young children, give them hugs and cuddles, and talk about helpers and those around you who are helpers. If you have kids who are in elementary school and above, talk about the facts of what happened. You would be surprised at what kids catch on and what they talk about with each other at school. We have an Alexa device in our kitchen, which has a screen that rotates different news headlines. Because my daughter is able to read, she often will notice different news articles and ask Alexa about them – we do our best to make sure to talk about it with her as well.
We also started to realize that there were lots of conversations pertaining to news and politics that were happening at school between her and her peers. It’s important to talk about the facts of what happened, not just about how we might feel about it. I regularly look at the AP Newswire to get the facts of current events. I have found it to be factual and the most neutral, along with PBS.
Although our family has our own set of values, opinions, political leanings and so on, we also want to acknowledge that others families may feel differently and think differently. In creating awareness and making sure that we are working off of facts helps us to guide our daughter in forming her own opinions and thinking critically about what is going on around her.
Tip 4: Use this as an opportunity for growth. I majored in Political Science and there were still a lot of things that I either didn’t remember about how government works or didn’t know. We learned the names of our representatives, our senators, and why there had to be a conversation and process to certify the results of our most recent election. It was also a time that I got to share about the demonstrations that I got caught in when visiting South Korea as a child as well as other governmental upheaval going on around the world. Did you and your family watch the musical Hamilton? If they did, it’s a great way to segway into a conversation about the American revolution and how nations are changed when significant and often, violent, events alter the course of a nation. How do we move forward from that? What does this mean for our country? What are the things that led up to this moment? These are great questions to guide a conversation with your older kids. Even your younger kids can be involved – have them check out some of the news sites that Common Sense Media has curated for all ages.
After your conversation and learning, decide on one action that you can do together as a family and/or as individuals to put into practice your growth opportunity. Maybe it’s reading How to be an anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi together or in a book group. Maybe it’s participating in service opportunities for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Maybe it’s volunteering to be an English Conversation Partner for your local church or community that has an English Language Learners program. Maybe it’s apologizing to your friend of color for those microaggressions you weren’t even aware of. Maybe it’s running for or participating in your town’s government.
Tip 5: Pray together with your family. As a Christian family, this has been one of our anchors during difficult times and this pandemic. We pray the promises of God and especially for peace and protection. We also pray in lament and repentance as well as healing. We pray for justice, but also for mercy. Most of all, we pray that we will be agents of God’s love to our neighbors. It is in these times of prayer that has led our family to action, but also to changes of hearts, which have grown larger in love, even for those we strongly disagree with. It is also in these times of prayer that we have been confronted with truth, and where we have found forgiveness, joy, and healing.
I love living in a world that is so connected, but it’s also a heavy responsibility at times. Take time to disconnect and take care of yourselves and help your families to do the same. My hope and prayer is that we will emerge as a country that is not just kinder, but that is truly just, truly free for all, that takes seriously the gift of democracy, and can face our history with humility and courage so that we do not continue to repeat the grievous errors of our past, but can move forward together.