Dear St. Luke's School Families,
Last night, Rev. Raphael Warnock was elected Senator of Georgia. Launched from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same pulpit that both grounded and propelled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Warnock became the first black, Democratic senator elected from the south. It was a night of celebration and aspiration about what our country might be.
This afternoon, our Capitol was attacked. Launched by the politics of hatred and division, the same politics that both grounded and propelled our history of systemic racism and violence that haunts us still, the attack is the first time home-grown terrorism has been used to thwart democratic principles. It is an afternoon of realization and devastation about what our country might become.
So how are we to live when simultaneous but seemingly contradictory truths pummel us, and more importantly, how are we to support our children during this time?
I think the answer is for us to remember to look at both truths simultaneously. When a television screen of violence and attack breaks our heart, turn to a news screen celebrating a southern state’s repudiation of its history of voter suppression. And when the news of our accomplishment nourishes, perhaps then, if we must, we can return to the news of our failure so that we can learn from our mistake and be reminded of the power of love in those who continue to profess freedom and hope.
But, for us and especially our children, there is a third and much more vital place to look. Look to our values. It is our families’ beliefs in our values — both our nuclear family and our school family — that transcends events and makes sense of contradiction. It is possible that our country can both further and repudiate our values of equity and justice. It is possible that our people can both rise to the promise of our Constitution and fall prey to the lure of perverting it.
Our family values — dignity, respect, compassion, honesty, excellence — and our shared commitment to serving a greater good, empower us to define the world we navigate rather than be defined by it. Let us use this time to talk to our children about what we believe even as we point out all that dismays us. So how might that be done?
First, reflect on your feelings. Identify the values you have seen attacked and the values you want to affirm. Step back from the urgency of headlines and newsbreaks and calm your mind and heart as much as you can. Then, away from devices, invite your child to share what they have seen, what they have heard, and what they are questioning.
After beginning with a conversation focusing on understanding and clarification, share what you believe as a family and how those beliefs have been and continue to be affirmed. Share your sadness and concern about what you have seen and heard, but end with your faith that values that support and nurture your family will heal our country. Give examples of all that affirms even as we acknowledge all that demeans.
Yes, we are a country and people with a history and a present that is full of hate and injustice. But we are also a country and people with a history and a present that is full of aspiration and optimism. As we look upon the former, let us reaffirm our commitment to the latter.
Below are some resources you might want to visit as you think about having conversations with your child.
In partnership and shared determination to serve our children and improve our world,
Head of School
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS TALKING TO CHILDREN
ABOUT TROUBLING CURRENT EVENTS
- NPR - What To Say To Kids When The News Is Scary
- Common Sense Media - Explaining The News To Our Kids (Age-Based Tips)
- Psychology Today - How To Talk To Children About The News
- American Psychological Association - How To Talk To Children About Difficult News
- Kurtz Psychology - How To Talk to Children About Current Events And What They See On The News
- Colorlines - The Do’s And Don’ts Of Talking To Kids Of Color About White Supremacy
- Huffington Post - White Supremacists Still Exist. Here’s What White Parents Can Do About It
- Democracy For President - How To Talk To Kids About The Threat Of Political Violence
In addition to the links above, we are providing a compilation of advice from a variety of resources and child psychologists:
- When hearing about scary news, young children will often verbalize questions about who will keep them safe, and it is important to reassure them of everything that you and others are doing to protect them. Older children and adolescents may wonder the same thing but may not be as verbal regarding that question.
- Sticking to normal routines, while it may seem strange in times such as these, can help to reinforce a sense of calm and safety.
- As children take their cues from the emotional adults in their life, it is good to react to the news in an empathic, but not overly dramatic way.
- It can be helpful to think about, and prepare what you want to say about the events before you say it.
- Asking your children what they know, and other open-ended questions can be very helpful in how to address the topic and guide the conversation as you listen to their responses.
- If you are going to speak about today’s events, share the facts, and provide context at a level that your child will be able to understand and tolerate.
- As Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” It is good to point out all of the people who were, and are, working to keep people safe (nurses, doctors, EMTs, etc.)
- If appropriate, you can always talk about what you and your child can do to help.
- If your child asks you a question you don’t know the answer to it is perfectly okay to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t know but I can find out and tell you later” if the question can be answered.
- If you feel that you’ve said something that you want to amend, you can always go back and revisit it later. Like many important topics, these conversations often happen more than once.
- It is okay, and important, to limit the amount of media your child consumes, especially if they are too young to have a frame of reference.
- Taking breaks from the news can be important and sometimes necessary.
- Be sure to nurture yourself as well. These events can take an incredible toll on our mental health and it is important to take care of yourself so you can be present for your children.
- Just how we encourage our children and students to identify and share their feelings, it is important for you to do the same with someone meaningful in your life.
- Teenagers often don’t want to discuss how they are feeling, and it is important to honor that. It is always appropriate, though, to share with your teen how you are feeling and processing your feelings. Sometimes modeling how we are honoring and working through our emotions is the best way to support reluctant teens in our midst.