Earlier, I addressed the terrible repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on young minds and lives. I asked that we remember that our children watch adults closely, noting whether we willingly take care of each other during a crisis, bravely and humanely. With both heavy hearts and hopefulness, we have since begun to wrestle with a national and collective witnessing of deadly injustice, and the painful, public reckoning of racism in our midst. Once again, we arise, and this time to translate centuries of travesty into childlike terms, to answer questions about a rising social movement with our children, and to help even the youngest among them to find their own voices and understanding. After all, the children continue to watch us.
This week, still reeling from the unprecedented magnitude of viral assault, housing and food deprivation, as well as the crisis of equity and fairness, we now face yet another extraordinary catastrophe. What we witnessed this week at the U.S. Capitol was a crisis which involves the very institutions we depend on, systemic anomie, and a societal breakdown that already is indelibly etched in the charting of American history. If they take the time to reflect on it all, most adults will feel the urgency, the instability, and the powerlessness; yet once again, the children continue to watch us.
As caregivers, the most important responsibility we have is to stay connected and to be truthful with our young. Safety and trustworthiness. Right now, it is fairly predictable that adults have few answers. In fact, children who have dealt with mass-shooting drills in schools for years may understand fully what it means to feel unsafe in a public school while pursuing their right to an education. They can connect to what happened on Wednesday because they actually are trained to “take cover.” Connectedness, a very human, essential and joyful experience can emerge from pain, loss, and grief, but not without intentional effort. Explore both small and large connections with your children. Have the difficult dialogue. Seek help in responding to your child’s reactions and to your own uncertainty. Review positive outcomes in every situation. What did we learn? How can our failures help us change, and make us better? How will we heal? As adults, and without a roadmap, we must demonstrate an ability to work together to be healthier, more accepting, more judicial, and to be more accountable. After all, the children continue to watch us and how we respond to what life literally throws at us, every day.
The family is the smallest economic/social unit of our society. At its best, it is permanent, protective, and reassuring. It raises dependent children into productive, healthy, self-sufficient adults. Families, however, can be vulnerable even if they are economically stable. Parents must hold their children close, model appropriate ways to manage crisis of all types, teach critical thinking, encourage moral reasoning, and cultivate an ability to separate fantasy from reality without punishment; then a healthy childhood becomes the family gift.
Ultimately, as adults, we must teach our children that actions and words have consequences. This is the most critical lesson about media and its exposure. However unintended, some choices result in tragic penalties. Instruct your children to recognize that we must live with the results of our judgement. Show them that as a family, as a community, we can move through this latest confrontation, and with stronger bonds. We have progressed through the health crisis and learned about our place in the world. We have emerged more informed and more committed through our calamity of justice. Give your children the opportunity to see you grounded and determined as we adults meet this next crisis. Find your humanity. Uncover the strength and connection of your role as a caring community member.
Be the person you prefer to be. The children are watching us right now.