‘You gotta check in with them’: How to reflect on U.S. Capitol riot with children

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SAN DIEGO – From a pandemic to racial justice protests, heated elections and now an insurrection at America’s capitol, the past 12 months have presented challenges few have seen before.

Following the chaos that engulfed Washington D.C. Wednesday when a group of pro-Trump rioters descended on the U.S. Capitol to delay Electoral College vote counting, some parents are left wondering how to talk to their children about what they’ve just witnessed.

“You gotta check in with them; you have to ask how they’re doing,” said Dana McNeil, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Five people including a San Diego woman and a U.S. Capitol Police officer died as a result of the insurrection. Several dozen other officers also suffered injuries.

In the wake of the incident, McNeil said it’s important to normalize children’s feelings right now.

“If they’re saying that they feel scared, say, ‘Yeah, Mom, Dad, I feel scared, too. This is a scary time,’ and then check in what’s the scariest part,” she said. “What is it that is making you worried or what part of your body are you feeling that you don’t know how to identify it?”

McNeil said it’s an opportunity to define what it means to be an American and that empathy is a trait worth valuing.

On a basic level, it’s also a lesson for children on how to react in defeat, she said.

“This is not how we handle things, and so I want my children to know this is not okay, this is not what we do this is not how adults should be handling it,” she said.

McNeil also said kids might still bring up Wednesday’s events and be worried for a little bit, and she says it’s important that parents just allow their kids space to talk.

“This is not easy,” she said. “We’ve never been here before. We don’t have tools to navigate these kind of times, but what we can be proud of ourselves is that we’ve showed up, we did the best that we could even if some days it felt like my best wasn’t as much as I’d like it to be.”

She said it’s a good opportunity to define what it means to be an American and that empathy is one of the values we should hold onto.

And, plain and simple, it’s also just a good lesson for kids on how to react in defeat.

“This is not how we handle things, and so I want my children to know this is not okay, this is not what we do this is not how adults should be handling it,” she said.

If nothing else, she suggests that you have to be kind to yourself through challenging times.

“This is not easy,” she said. We’ve never been here before we don’t have tools to navigate these kind of times, but what we can be proud of ourselves is that we’ve showed up, we did the best that we could even if some days it felt like my best wasn’t as much as I’d like it to be.”

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