The events of January 6th 2021 have left us all a bit shell shocked, as any national tragedy does. They create a sense of disbelief and vulnerability that does not sit well with most Americans. Now, as parents, we have the double burden of coming to terms with what happened within ourselves while simultaneously helping our children understand these events in ways that their limited experiences can assimilate.
How experiences are stored
Our brains store our past experiences a bit like a filing cabinet. As we go through life and encounter all the ups and downs along the way, we create more and more file folders within that cabinet. They are referred to as schemas. Information about our experiences can be stored systematically or chaotically. For example, childhood trauma can have lasting effects when the memories of those experiences get stored in a wrong folder or create a new folder of their own to which non-traumatic events are later added. We need to be careful at times like these to regulate the quality and quantity of information that gets filed and consider if our children even have a place to put it. This is further complicated by innate personality and temperament of each unique child.
There are some things we can do, however and they apply to any national tragedy.
Watch your mood and your tone
If you have very young children, they may have no awareness of what is happening in the world right now but they know what is happening with you. You may have strong feelings of anger, grief, sadness, or fear but the place for expressing these emotions is with friends, family, pastors and counselors. Your kids depend on you to be their protector and comforter. You can say something like, “Mommy is feeling sad and mad right now, but I am not sad or mad with you.”
Regroup with God
These experiences have a way of knocking us off our foundation of faith and trust. But don’t stay there. Turn off your news feed and spend some time with the Lord. He is still on His throne. He is still sovereign. He still sees and loves each one of us. You will not have a clear mind or heart to address this with your kids if your assurance of God’s faithfulness is in question.
Assess your child
Is your child highly sensitive? Does he have a history of trauma? Does he struggle with fears and insecurities with regard to safety? Is he just too young? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, limit their exposure to this, and other national tragedies. That includes protecting them from any passionate phone calls you might have within earshot. Keep any information that you do choose to share brief and accurate, but general.
Assure your child
If you have determined that your child can handle learning about what happened, watch or read the news together. Keep your eye on their facial expressions and body language as you do. Fearful eyes, clenched teeth and fists will communicate the truth, even if they are saying, “I’m fine!” You can simply say, “This is hard to watch, isn’t it? Bad things happen, but that does not mean that God is not in control. Let’s stop here and talk about it.” Be open to their questions and pause before you reply. Check your heart: are you using the discussion to vent your feelings or are you choosing to share to what is appropriate for your specific child? Be honest but mindful. Remember, your child does not have the same “file folders” as you. They need a place to put this information and it is your job to help them do that in a healthy way. You can say, “You might be feeling nervous about this and a little unsafe. But you are safe with me. I will always protect you.” Also keep in mind that your discussion of any distressing event can (and often should) be done in stages. Go slow with what you discuss and expose them to, monitoring their affect and body language.
Talk about God’s view of violence
The Bible is crystal clear: “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5). The Bible calls His followers to reflect His image by hating evil and loving what is good (Amos 5:15). When we call good evil and evil good, we have removed the Lord from His throne and placed ourselves squarely on it. When we see violence or other things that are evil, we need to name them for what they are and condemn them. You can share these verses with your children along with that great message of hope from John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Yes there is violence and evil in this world, but in the end, God wins.
One final thought: assess your inputs
Television shows and video games have desensitized many young people (and adults) to the jarring, abhorrent nature of violence. It is possible that your children think this event was “not big deal.” If that is the case, I would challenge you to do an inventory of what they have been exposed to. It’s never too late to evaluate and change directions with regard to the type of the media you have been consuming.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” 2 Thessalonians 3:16Image by Hans Kretzmann from Pixabay