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‘Mommy, what are they doing?’ - discussing Wednesday's events at the U.S. Capitol with your children

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Posted at 4:35 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 19:14:09-05

CLEVELAND — Chaos at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday is prompting questions from the most inquisitive minds.

“She was looking at it and she's like, ‘Mommy, what are they doing?’” Tricia Ouermi said. “It was important that she was aware of what was going on.”

Ouermi is a mother, a Cleveland native and a woman of color. She said it’s important to explain historical events in terms her 6-year-old daughter can understand.

“In every movie, everything, there's always a protagonist and an antagonist. There's always a good and a bad and that's what we struggle with in life,” Ouermi said. “Some people don't like apples. Some people do. Some people have never tried an orange, but they just don't like them because someone else doesn’t like them.”

Ouermi then allows her daughter to draw her own conclusions and reflect on her feelings.

“I think the important thing is to ask, ‘How do you feel about it?’ If she has questions about something we answer them, but we're very careful not to answer things for her,” Ouermi said. “When she expresses herself, then we can go and talk about how we may feel about a situation and what the world is today, but we always try leaving it on a positive note.”

Ouermi said tough, honest conversations about civil unrest are no longer optional with children.

“I allow her to see the beauty and the destruction, but explain it in a way where beauty exists,” Ouermi said. “Our parents used to say, ‘It's grown-up stuff.’ They didn’t explain things, but I don't think we're in those times anymore.”

Child psychologist Dr. Jane Timmons-Mitchell said children take note and mirror their parents in times of turmoil.

“If they have seen any of the footage themselves directly, they may have their own direct questions, but more likely, they're going to be reacting to how the people around them are feeling about it,” Timmons-Mitchell said. “I’m thinking of prominent funerals of people that are broadcast for days. Kids are aware of it, but they're more aware of the reactions of the people around them.”

Timmons-Mitchell said it is important to answer their questions while simultaneously providing a sense of security.

“It's very important for parents, caregivers and other people around them, as much as possible, to be able to preserve and establish a sense of safety. We can feel scared and angry and threatened and all kinds of things,” Timmons-Mitchell said. “But in communicating with the children, it's really important to communicate that despite whatever else is going on, the adults around you are going to be able to keep you safe.”

Danielle Waskowski’s teenage daughter was keeping a close eye on the television screen Wednesday.

“Her exact words were, ‘Oh, it sounds like Trump’s followers have been pushed far enough,’” Waskowski said. “I said, ‘You know, there's a lot of angry people out there.’ I used basically the whole year of the coronavirus, being quarantined and people stressed about finances and the world just not being good right now.”

In the other room, her much younger son was blissfully unaware of the events at the U.S. Capitol.

“While the whole world is falling apart outside in Washington, he's worried about an art project. So I took him and we went and got art stuff,” Waskowski said. “Being that I've been through 9/11 and seen how parents reacted during different crises in the world, you just have to be strong and just be as positive as you can for the kids.”

Erin Wallace’s approach to guiding her children through times of turmoil is complex.

“I don't want to say the wrong thing because if I say the wrong thing, it'll stick with him,” Wallace said. “Maybe I should expose him a little bit to what is going on out there, but I just don't want him to get upset.”

Wallace’s daughter Mya is only five years old and her 8-year-old son Max has autism, which makes navigating difficult conversations even tougher.

“We visited Washington, D.C. a little over a month ago. The sparkle that they had in their eyes, I can’t explain. ‘This is where the president lives. Look at the Washington Monument. Look at the Capitol where laws are being made,’” Wallace said. “To take that innocence away from them and show them images of what happened yesterday, I can't do that to them.”

According to experts, Wednesday’s events may cause skepticism and agitation in children.

“What we teach our children is that it's okay to speak your mind and we value free speech. There's a distinction between your words and then doing something more than that,” Timmons-Mitchell said. “It’s golden rule stuff to treat other people like you want to be treated and unfortunately there has been a breach of that.”

However, Timmons-Mitchell said this is a time to nourish, not neglect, relationships with family, friends and neighbors.

“Reinforcing the importance of ongoing safety and holding tight to those people that support you. Looking for the people who will protect you. The teachers. The helpers,” Timmons-Mitchell said. “We have a lot of helpers, but the biggest helpers are the people that are in your family. It's really important to strengthen those ties rather than let them fry at a time of potential crisis and turmoil.”