The searing pictures of a weapon-wielding, pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol just over a week ago have been difficult for many adults to process. But for children, making sense of the violent images that have flooded the airwaves and social media in the days since the attack on that symbol of American democracy can be particularly challenging. Open and honest discussions are keys to helping children understand the events of last week said Richard Weissbourd, co-director of Making Caring Common at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), an initiative focused on moral development priorities in child-raising. The Gazette spoke to Weissbourd, a psychologist and senior lecturer at HGSE, about ways to navigate the difficult topic with children of all ages.
GAZETTE: How can parents best start conversations about what happened last week?
WEISSBOURD: I think that the place to start with kids is to ask questions like, “What have you heard? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” It’s also important not to conflate how you might be thinking and feeling with their questions. Doing the work of understanding how you think and feel about this before entering in these conversations can be helpful too in guiding your kids. Also, many kids are going to feel unsafe. This was the temple of democracy, and it was supposed to be one of the most secure buildings in the country, and it was overrun by a mob. So young kids, in particular, might worry, “Is any place safe? Is my home safe?” So reassurances about security, finding out how children are making meaning of it, and being nimble enough to respond to them in ways that are really tuned in to how they feel, are all going to be important for parents in these discussions.
I think a lot of kids also don’t want to be passive. They want to be active; they want to do something. This is a time when a lot of people are feeling very out of control, and so giving them something they can do that can help them feel some control or help them manage their feelings about this is helpful, whether that’s writing a congressperson or working on voter registration in your local community. For older kids, this is also a great time to talk about democracy, to explain that we are engaged in this brave and beautiful experiment in democracy, but that there’s nothing indestructible about it. We have to recommit to it every generation, and we really have to work to support it and those institutions that protect it.