Now that the raw pain of the unbelievable attack on our Capitol is entering history books, I feel compelled to share my professional opinion that what unfolded has much to do with family life. My concern is about our children as they grow into mature, responsible adults and contribute to their world.
It’s difficult to see our Capitol surrounded by fences with concertina wire to deter the most determined. Many thousands of loyal and respectful Americans have walked in awe through this symbol of democracy for years, and now it will be generations before that taint of anger and rage from a few will fade.
This is not political. I don’t declare my beliefs here, except as it relates to parenting children and maintaining healthy families.
More invasive and mean spirited conditions are seeping into our lives. A true minority of Americans is behaving badly for many complicated reasons, fostering and perpetuating acts of violence, including some other protests which turned sour and destructive. Most likely some of those incidents were incited by some of the same few radical leaders.
Imagine a homeowner in an established middle class neighborhood. The family displays a porch flag that indicates its beliefs, not controversial or offensive.
Some folks decide they don’t like people showing their different beliefs, so they break into the home, ransack the rooms, empty drawers, and break prized possessions leaving the family disheveled and bruised literally and physically. Who were those people? Why would they do such a thing?
One of the many reasons contributing to this bewildering behavior is what psychiatrists and mental health experts call ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences), biological and environmental events in the form of abuse, neglect, some trauma that can have a damaging affect on the victims’ lives causing health problems, negative behaviors and even PTSD. Major research finds that many crimes and illegal activities today are the direct result of those early years.
I feel obligated to say to parents, what kind of adult do you want your children to become? Even during these terribly dark days, it behooves parents to work even harder to make sure their children are not experiencing damage that will haunt them for a lifetime. Children are copycats. They emulate behaviors they see around them; adults behaving in ways that parents don’t want to teach. They perform their critical roles well when they discuss what they see around them. Unacceptable behaviors have to be pointed out, named, and explained, making sure their children know the difference between peaceful disagreement in respectful exchanges and overt, planned acts of senseless violence. We adults are mirroring the behaviors we want them to have. So, what do we want?
Talking with our children about violence is as difficult as talking with them about sex!
For help I recommend this article from Dr. Neha Chaudhary, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Her advice is some of the best. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/08/health/talking-kids-capitol-violence-wellness/index.html. I will also include her details next month.
In the meantime, please review her highlights for support.
1. Create the space to ask questions. 2. Limit media time based on age. 3. Reassure them that they are safe. 4. Be open and honest. 5. Talk about bad actions, not bad people. 6. Highlight the helpers and any positives. 7. Help them name feelings, You are not stressed, you are feeling stressed. 8. Parents keep their own feelings in check, real but stable. 9. Create good coping skills. 10. Use these as a foundation for future and continuing discussion.
Stay well and engaged. Be the behaviors you want to see. And, don’t lose heart!
Jim R. Rogers, M.Ed., CFLE
Parenting and Family Life Educator still learning, inc.