In writing this headline, I chose my words VERY carefully. I wanted to make sure I found the most accurate words to describe what we all witnessed at our nation’s capital Wednesday. The FBI’s own definition of Domestic Terrorism most closely describes the violent scenes of radicalized extremists storming the capitol building in an attempt to overturn the results of our presidential election. Insurrection is another important term because it will likely be used when those responsible are arrested and tried.
Why am I taking a deep-dive in definitions? Because the truth really matters. Nothing proves it like what happened yesterday with the entire world watching. Political and public relation spin has become the vernacular we use to communicate. It’s confusing, dismissive, and has a job: to deflect and distract.
This is not the time for confusion.
So with that as my foundation, this is how I’m talking to the kids about it and have some books and exercises for ongoing conversations about what’s happening. And if you are searching for ways to bring up these topics to your kids, join me!
- Start with the truth. Here’s what I’m telling the kids. First, we are still learning all the facts about what happened yesterday. But so far here’s what we know: A mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed our capitol, vandalized the building, terrified the people who work there, and unfortunately four people died. Our representatives both in the Senate and House were forced to evacuate and hide because their lives were at risk. Right now, police are back in control and the Capitol is safe. A complete investigation is underway. We will know exactly what happened. And we as a country will learn from the results of that investigation.
- Think Critically. Beyond what actually happened yesterday, what else do those events reveal about our society? I’m a mom and bonus grown-up to five kids. Five white kids. Yesterday, we discussed how that same scene would have played out if the protestors had been Black people. This is an important part of our discussion. I know this can be scary, but the kids can handle it. I promise. The choice of whether or not to discuss this reality with your kids means you are by default living in white privilege. Teaching my kids about this has stopped the cycle of ignorance. Now they can open their minds and figure out next steps.
- We can Overcome this attack. But not by magic. It takes real work from all of us, even our littles. I’m explaining to my kids that Democracy is in some ways like a garden. It must be watched over, defended, tended to, watered, re-seeded. In short, it’s a lot of work. And working on it has to be part of our way of life. An easy first step? Books. Read or provide books that delve into these topics. I tend to read to my kids at the table. At bedtime, I’m too tired. These books can be the basis for dinner table conversation or to start the day at breakfast. However it works for you, that’s what works best! I have some recommendations coming up.
- Feelings. I’m talking to the kids about our feelings. Some that have come up? Anger, Sadness, Shock, Fear. Our kids are already dealing with a lot, and seeing grown adults act the way they did yesterday does not help. It’s important to be able to discuss our feelings about it and to explore how our feelings can be powerful motivators in fueling constructive action.
- Action. We’ve talked. We’ve read. What else can we do? Write letters to our leaders? Support democracy clubs at school? Identify what changes need to be made to strengthen our democracy and make a plan for personally helping. This can be very empowering to young people. And I find that when kids can take action, the legacy of these events are less traumatic. Taking meaningful action lessens that feeling of helplessness.
Did you hear that during the attack on the Capitol, a brave staffer grabbed the election certification documents on his way out of the chamber? People were texting me about how much that reminded them of my picture book Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words that Built America. In this true tale, readers are transported to Washington when the British attack in 1814 and you’ll get to know a forgotten hero who took extraordinary action to save our Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. This brings home all the points we want to make right now: when Democracy is under attack, we must take action, we must care about the words this country is built on, and we can be successful.
Also, check out Cynthia and Sanford Levinson’s Fault Lines in the Constitution. This middle grade nonfiction is a tour de force in explaining the documents, it’s strengths and cracks. Amazingly, it is also now available in graphic novel format. Plus, it’s written in a way, that young readers will love and yet it delivers the intellectual foundation they need to understand what’s happening, and to think critically about it.
For greater context in how Black Lives Matter fits into what happened yesterday and in analyzing the police response, this summer my family took a deep dive into Black History in America and it was so powerful. These blog posts are full of book recommendations.
The March trilogy by late US Representative John Lewis remains at the top of our ‘favorites’ list. It is powerful. The illustrations are amazing and the graphic novel treatment of this nonfiction tale is accessible for young readers. Reading the extraordinary series gave the kids instant context yesterday. NPR’s Steve Inskeep took on this topic and produced a fantastic piece of journalism you can read here.
I have found a great list of books about that demonstrate empowerment and encourage kids to stand up and speak up. You can check it out here from the Read Brightly blog. So many of my personal favorites are on this list. I would add to that the recently released title No Voice Too Small by Lindsay Metcalf, Keila Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley. This book covers the stories of fourteen young American who make history. Inspiring! If you have great tips to add or books and resources to add, please comment below!
Parents, teachers, grown-ups, I’m sending you so much strength. These are not easy times. Having these conversations can feel overwhelming especially against the backdrop of a life-threatening pandemic. But this is also an opportunity to re-define the way we teach our children about the world, about their precious place in it, and about the work we have to do…together.
Sending you all peace and extra energy,