#WordinBlack: Parents face tough conversations after attack on Capitol building

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“This is something that will be in history books and our children are living through it,” said Mike Hopkins, a licensed counselor. “They should have support and solidarity.” (Photo by Nechirwan Kavian on Unsplash)

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Whether you call it a violent protest or an attempted coup- the facts of Jan.6, 2021 remain clear. 

According to acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen of the Department of Justice, “a violent mob stormed the Capitol grounds, broke down crowd control barriers, assaulted Capitol Police officers, and overran the Capitol complex.”

Across a country gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, students are Zooming into virtual classrooms with news reports blaring in the background. Between Tik-Tok and Instagram, conversations about current events are inevitable- whether parents join the discussion or not.

“Be honest with children,” said Dr. Christopher Bishop, associate professor of psychology at Trinity Washington University. “There are so many lies out there. The parent’s responsibility is to be honest.

Bishop, a licensed psychologist and clinical social worker, said Black children should know there are people who don’t like them based on how they look instead of who they are. The acknowledgement must come with reassurance that they are safe and have a right to “be proud of who they are in spite of anyone else.”  

Though parents can’t control everything, Bishop said they should get a tight grip on the media that enters their home.

“Limit the news and their social media so that you can be the person they are looking for to guide them. The internet is overwhelming for any age,” he said. “That’s how we have extremist websites. People are angry and don’t know what to do with it.”

If parents feel like they can’t properly address certain topics with their children, Bishop said they can seek the help of a mental health professional. Even if there are no signs of distress, children can benefit from having a safe space to talk. 

Psychologists, therapists, and social workers across the country have warned that Black communities are staring down two pandemics- coronavirus and racism. 

Last year peaceful protestors decrying the brutal deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were met with teargas and rubber bullets in the nation’s capital. This month, law enforcement officers repeatedly gave ground and eventually escorted violent Trump supporters out of the Capitol building- even after they fought, pepper sprayed police, and broke in to interrupt the certification of 2020 election votes.

“It shows two different Americas and we live in those different Americas,” said Bishop. 

Mywen Baysah, a Washington, D.C. clinical social worker, said when approaching conversations about current events “the best thing to do is gauge how much your children know. Sometimes parents want to have ‘the talk’ and kids might not be aware, or the first conversations happened at school before parents could even return from work.”

Baysah said “if you have a child that is in early elementary school they may have seen things on tv or heard people discussing things. For younger children, have the conversation if they bring it up, but first figure out what they know and gauge their anxiety levels.”

Students who are in third grade and up there should have “a conversation that starts with a talk about feelings- not really the facts of what happened- but the feelings,” added Baysah, who also works in school settings.

Talking children through tough issues in the headlines might include asking your child “How do you feel?” and “What do you think we saw on tv?”

According to Baysah, schools have already been supporting students as they try to understand the attack.

“The next day we had books and social stories to help children understand what was happening. We had classroom check-ins. We also let the teachers know that they could come in and talk with the mental health professionals,” she told the AFRO. “Schools have developed plans to discuss these things through morning meetings, restorative circles, guided lessons that teachers could use with different talking prompts.”

Baysah said if parents expressed anger about the attack in front of their children, they should also take time to express how they handled that emotion. 

“Did you notice you weren’t coping well? Did you take a walk? Did you write in a journal? If we want our children to express their emotions the right way we have to model it.”

Baysah said children should be reassured that they are safe in their homes and communities.

“Start with what you can control. Are they safe in their home? Connect that to their community,” she said. “Widen that base of what safety looks like.”

Upper elementary students might need terms like “impeachment” explained, while younger children should explore good and bad behavior. 

“This is something that will be in history books and our children are living through it,” said Mike Hopkins, a licensed counselor. “They should have support and solidarity.”

“Support can mean ‘I’m here for you if you need extra resources,’ and solidarity is the idea that we are all taking this in together. It happened live and we are all in the struggle together.”

Hopkins, said children should know it’s okay to be angry. 

“Think about what we are being angry about,” he said. “We are talking about systemic bias. The system is set up to treat us differently. That is something everyone should be angry about.”

If money is a factor, Hopkins said parents take advantage of the mental health professionals within the school system.

“Often times these events are tipping points for young adults,” said Hopkins.

Ricky Lomax is no stranger to how these “tipping points” affect the community. The Missouri-based licensed professional counselor has been on the ground dealing with mental health issues in a state rocked by racial tension since the 2014 death of Michael Brown.

“The demand for therapy is at an all time high,” said Lomax. 

While some mental health professionals say children should be given age appropriate context for about racial tensions, Lomax said the conversation with young children should be brief.

“You don’t have to give a historic background and all the details. That is not information they can use and it’s not going to help them if they feel anxious,” he said. “The more information you give the more anxiety you create.” 

Lomax said the cycle of systemic racism is not invisible to children.

“We’ve been through this,” he told the AFRO. “They are maturing with it and are very much aware of the racial disparities and racial history.”

“It’s not catching them by surprise.”