As America continues to grapple with the events of Wednesday, when pro-Trump supporters stormed and rioted in the U.S. Capitol, child psychologists are reminding parents to think to how their kids might be feeling amid all the confusion.
“Kids who saw what happened could easily be feeling afraid and confused,” Dr. Linda Drozdowicz told Inside Edition Digital. Drozdowicz is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Blythdale Children’s Hospital.
She explained that it’s important for parents now to take time and have a conversation with their kids.
“The best way to prevent a traumatic experience from staying with someone is to process it,” Drozdowicz said. “Ask them how they’re feeling and what questions they have. Just see what they say and you can respond accordingly.”
A parent can also begin by sharing some of their own feelings. “Say, ‘Listen, I felt scared,’ or ‘I felt sad,’ or ‘I felt angry.’ And then, ‘how did you feel?’ Open up the conversation and show them that talking about difficult feelings is not only safe, but it's good, it's healthy, and that you're promoting it,” she explained. “I may be biased as a psychiatrist, but that's the key to helping them be happier as adults is to feel comfortable expressing their emotions openly.”
But parents should be careful not to project their own anxieties. “You don't want to be overly emotional and lose control in front of them if you can help it. That can be frightening to a child,” she explained. “Children always use their parents to figure out if they're OK and if they're safe, that's the basic child-parent circular mechanism for checking in emotionally.”
Parents should also be careful not to hide the truth. “Kids are excellent at telling when you're lying. They're really, really good. Even toddlers. They may not have the words for it, but they can tell,” she explained. “It you're really upset about something, it's OK to acknowledge that you're upset. The best thing you can do is to teach them to use words to express what's going on.”
She also warns against explaining the attempted coup in black and white terms, like saying it was the fault of a group of bad people. “That can be very frightening to a child because they might think, ‘What if I become a bad person?’ as if it's one way or the other,” Drozdowicz explained.
Instead, she recommends using words like “unsafe” or “unkind” to describe the behaviors of the rioters, then having a conversation about what safe behaviors kids can take when they’re feeling upset.
For some kids, the best response a parent can take is to limit their exposure to media. “If they saw pictures of what happened, that can be disturbing to kids. They might even have nightmares about that … because they might not be exactly sure what happened and they might not be sure how safe or unsafe things are,” she explained.
If a parent decides to turn off the news in their home, they can clarify, “We're not turning it off because the conversation is done. I want you and I to talk about it and talk about any questions or feelings that you're having,” she suggested.
For any kid having a particularly hard time coping, Drozdowicz recommends parents organize an appointment with a therapist, which has become easier to do since many providers have taken their practice virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Above all else, it is important to make sure kids feel safe. “Just tell your kids you love them and they are safe,” she said. “Remind them that did not happen here where we live in our home, and you are safe here with me, and we can talk about it, and we'll get through it, and the world and the country will be OK.”