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How to discuss the U.S. Capitol riot with your child

Published: Jan. 9, 2021 at 8:51 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 9, 2021 at 8:54 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Explaining to kids acts of domestic terrorism, like the storming of the U.S. Capitol, is not an easy conversation, but Dr. Jeremiah Dickerson, a child psychiatrist with the University of Vermont Medical Center, says it’s a necessary one.

“It’s really important for parents to provide space in which to dialogue about this in a thoughtful way,” Dr. Dickerson said.

Dickerson encourages you to create a safe space for your child to express their feelings, thoughts, concerns and questions about the riot.

“Kids really need information in order to feel in control and have a greater sense of agency,” he said.

Dickerson says children as young as three years old can tell when something is wrong. They can likely sense their parents’ stress, fear and anxiety. Most kids elementary-aged and older want answers. But how you have the conversation with your child depends on their age.

“For the younger kids, you do want to keep things more general,” Dickerson explained. “Try not to go into too many details unless the questions are kind of heading in that direction.”

Dickerson says you also want to emphasize to your child that they’re safe.

“Say, ‘You know, those people were going right to the Capitol building. Those people were not going into your school. They’re not going into our home. And so we’re pretty safe here,’” Dickerson said.

For middle and high school students, he says you want to keep in mind that they’re getting a lot of their information, or misinformation, from social media. It’s important to talk to them about what they’re seeing and reading about the riot. Dickerson encourages you use that as an opportunity to then discuss the underlying issues, like conspiracy theories, American elections and democracy.

“And then think about how you can engage them in dialogue about fostering their own empowerment to make changes,” he said. “How can you as a teenager stand up for kindness? How can you take action in relation to social justice issues?”

Regardless of your child’s age, Dr. Dickerson says you should avoid language that paints groups of people with a large brush.

“We have to be careful talking to kids in a way that indicates republicans are bad and democrats are good or vice versa. I think the more that we can avoid overgeneralizing those thoughts, the better as well,” he said.

Dr. Dickerson suggests you note if your child’s eating habits are changing, if they seem more withdrawn, or if they start acting more aggressive or irritable. If you see these indictors of psychological stress, you are encouraged to call their pediatrician.

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