Well-Being//

How to Talk to Your Kids About What’s Happening in America Right Now

It's not easy to talk about, but starting the conversation is important.

Fizkes/ Shutterstock
Fizkes/ Shutterstock

It has been a terrible week so far for America. The shocking tragedy in DC, a black mark on our history, happened January 6, 2021 and the next day, January 7, 2021 was the worst death rate from Covid19 with more than 4,000 deaths in one day. It was an insurrection in our country and an out of control epidemic.

The big question for parents and teachers now is how to help children deal with the tragic situation. I am republishing parts of an excellent blog post written by my friend and colleague Aleta Margolis who has been leading Inspired Teaching for years in DC.

Across the country, some school and district leaders are supporting classroom teachers in creating safe spaces to process the events that took place on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol building. However, this is not universally the case. Teachers in many schools and districts have been instructed or encouraged, by their principals and district leaders, not to discuss the political turmoil that is shaking our country. Not a good idea.

These are scary times, and discussing scary things is hard to do — especially with kids. But talking about, and learning about things that matter is what kids want, need, and deserve to do in school. The purpose of school is to teach young people how to participate in, and one day lead, our democracy. And that goal is more important now than it has ever been.

Teachers need to talk with their students about the unprecedented events we’re experiencing, about the history that’s being made right at this moment. This kind of discussion in schools is at the heart of engaging, student-centered instruction—and it can help build valuable skills and dispositions.

For students of all ages, elementary through high school:

  • How are you feeling? Is it a familiar feeling or an unfamiliar one? Is it easy to name how you are feeling, or is it hard to do?
  • Can you think of a time you did something wrong, something that hurt someone else—and you had the courage to admit you were wrong? How did that feel?
  • Have you ever tried to mend fences with someone you disagree with?
  • Can you think of a time when something bad happened that ended up bringing people together—in history, in a book or movie, in your own life?
  • What does being brave mean to you?

For middle and high school students:

  • What do you know about the events of Jan. 6? What do you want to understand better?
  • How do you think members of Congress felt that night when they returned to the chamber after having had to evacuate?
  • Imagine yourself 50-60 years from now, speaking with your grandchildren about the events of yesterday. What do you think you’ll tell them? What will you want them to learn from these events?
  • Where do your rights interfere with the rights of others?
  • When Congress reconvened on Wednesday after hours of lockdown, a number of Senators and Representatives stood up to speak. What do you think they might have been feeling as they spoke?

For high school students:

  • Who does the U.S. Capitol belong to?
  • Some have said that the events of Jan. 6 were a turning point in our country. Do you believe we’re at a turning point? Why or why not? Can you think of other times in history that have been turning points in the history/trajectory of a society?
  • Last night Senator Cory Booker pointed out that, before now, the only time the U.S. Capitol had been breached was during the War of 1812 when the British army burned it to the ground. He went on to point out that while our then-adversaries from another country invaded the Capitol in 1812, on January 6, 2021, “we brought this hell upon ourselves.” What do you think he meant by this? Who is the “we” in his statement?

Helpful Resources

In addition, here are some resources to support teachers and parents in talking with children about difficult subjects:

It is a time for us as a nation  to come together and to work together for peace in our country. We are all Americans, first and foremost, and we need to remember that. We have had four years of disruption and four years of fanning the flames of hatred. We need to stop the hate mongering and the misinformation. Hopefully that will happen with the start of a new calmer, more predictable administration.

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