You’re a middle school teacher, you and your 11 year old have just turned on the television to watch the news. What you see in front of you nearly blows you away, you rub your eyes, no, you’re not imagining it, there’s a riot at the United States Capitol. You sit there watching in horror with so many thoughts going through your head. “This can’t be happening in our country,” you say aloud to your child who begins to cry. What do you say to comfort her, and how will you support your students when you return to school?
“Parents are often tempted to lie as a first response, because they don’t want their child to worry or be burdened with this, and that’s a bad approach,” according to Cassidy O’Brien, a family therapist. “It’s bad to overwhelm children with too much information, but you can tell them the truth in simple ways and use their questions to guide you on how much to share.” She continues, “Even though you might be tempted to try to keep the news from your kids, or to even lie about what’s happening—don’t. Confronting kids’ worries head on, explaining what’s happening in a truthful but simple way, and emphasizing that kids are safe are the best ways to help children make sense of the chaos. Kids are like sponges and are really absorbing everything, and it’s safe to assume that they’ve had some exposure to the news,” O’Brien says. “If they don’t have that guidance, they might create a narrative in their head that’s inaccurate and not helpful for them.”
First off, help the kids to understand that they are safe, you as their parent or teacher are there for them. But, let them know there’s nothing wrong with being afraid, be honest with them tell them that this scares you too. Being afraid is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. You can use this event as a geography lesson too. As long as you aren’t living in close proximity to the capitol, take out a map and show them that they aren’t even close to where it occurred.
Next, ask what they know so that pertinent information can be provided to them. Start the conversation by inquiring if they saw the news and how they felt about it. Let them know how you felt but don’t be too explicit. Share as much as they need to know. Find out if they have any questions, if they do, answer as honestly as you can, if you don’t have an answer, tell them you don’t know, but you can find out together.
When kids say things like, “How come I have to obey rules, but grown-ups don’t?” Be honest, without giving away your political views, and let them know that we all feel differently about the election, and this is how they’re showing it. This could lead to a discussion of other ways to deal with your anger when you disagree with something. Also make them cognizant of the fact that others are stepping in to maintain the peace, to make sure that everyone is safe, and to protect the country.
When you think about it, this is truly an historic teaching moment, let your students know this isn’t a singular event, but there have been insurrections in our past which have helped make positive change. For instance, you might discuss the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783 in which a type of army came together to take a stand against Congress. Jeff Nokes, a history professor, “compared the mindset that instigated the riots to the “lost cause mentality” the South adopted following the Civil War when the Confederacy initially refused to accept its defeat and blasted the Union with accusations of foul play similar to those President Donald Trump has cast at Congress. He called such behavior a way to save face when you’ve invested a lot in a lost cause.” Stress that they are witnessing history first hand.
If you’re teaching remotely, initiating relevant and emotional conversations can be a challenge. Here’s a link that will help you plan your conversation. Below are a few strategies with links that are useful for remote learning:
Journals are an effective way for students to organize their ideas and emotions. They may benefit from having more chances to self reflect before participating in remote conversations.
Grafitti Boards allow students to “hear” what their classmates are saying, this gives them some time and space to process powerful emotional information. Additionally it creates a record of ideas and questions that can be referenced at another time.
Wraparound consists of having students share a quick response to a prompt. It’s an effective method for your class to share their thoughts about a question, topic, or text, that highlights common themes they may have.
Bottom line, what occurred at the Capitol is against the law, disrupting Congress from counting the electoral ballots is a federal offense. A peaceful protest is one thing, people have a right to voice their opinions but, without violence. Let your students know that many who broke into the Capitol are being prosecuted and some will spend time in jail. This may help to alleviate some of their fears. You can have a great discussion, and or debate about this.
Stay Safe and Healthy
Resources for Talking To Students About the Attack on the Capitol (weareteachers.com)
How to talk to your kids about the chaos at the Capitol (nationalgeographic.com)
How to teach students about the US Capitol insurrection – The Daily Universe (byu.edu)
Responding to the Insurrection at the US Capitol | Facing History and Ourselves
Looking for a resource on Random Acts of Kindness, this is just for you.
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Such an important topic, Deann! What a crazy time. First and foremost, kids need to know that they are safe. Thank you.
Gini Musmanno says
Wow! You are brave! Good advice, though.
Lisa Robles says
So important to talk about this. Thanks.