By Victor Jones
My 6-year-old daughter had trouble sleeping Wednesday night, and was unable to say why. Just like me, my daughter is highly sensitive and intuitive to the energies surrounding us. We both can innately tell when something is off.
On Thursday, she gave voice to her intuition. “Daddy, something is wrong,” she said. My initial thought was to shield her from the reality of what had transpired in our nation’s capital Wednesday, but in hindsight, I recognize that did her a disservice.
When she was unable to get an answer from me, she proceeded to press her mother:
“Mommy, something is wrong. I need to know what is going on.”
I made a point to not allow my daughter to see any images from Wednesday’s violent insurrection, nor did my wife or I watch media coverage of the incident while she and our 2-year-old daughter were present. Images of violence and disorder register profound fear and confusion in the young, developing brains of children. Also, and importantly, when young children view news segments covering violent events, they believe the events are occurring in real time, over and over again. Smaller children may even assume that the violence is occurring close to them.
Instead of letting her see coverage, my wife and I decided to talk with her about what happened:
The sitting president of the United States recently lost the election; and because he is very angry that he lost, he told people who follow him, to be angry as well. He lied and said that he was cheated out of the election, and even encouraged his followers to be violent. And so they did. Thousands of these people went to the place where our lawmakers were going to officially declare a new president and vice president and broke into the place. They broke windows and other things and tried to steal things. They caused a lot of harm to themselves and others. And they laughed about it and celebrated.
She briefly reflected on what she had just been told, and, naturally, she asked questions:
“Why would the president tell his people to be mean?” I answered with my opinion that the sitting president does not care about anyone except himself. Rather than going down the list of everything else I believe about him, I used the moment as a cautionary tale for her to always think for herself.
“What kind of people were they?” I answered with fact: Nearly all of them were white people—white men—who believed the president’s lies and think doing bad is a good thing.
“Why do those people think doing bad is a good thing?” I reminded her of our prior discussion on projection: the idea that oftentimes, people may feel bad about themselves, and instead of getting to the root of why, they falsely feel that they can make themselves feel better by harming others.
“Did anyone die?” I replied, “Yes. Four* people.” And I left it at that.
My daughter then asked: “Where were the police when this was going on?”
I needed her to understand the racial dynamics at play. So I told her when people our color, Black and Brown people, get together peacefully to speak out against being mistreated, that there have been many times when the police have responded with violence. Fortunately, this was not our first conversation on race and on policing in America. All parents should be having these conversations with their children the moment they’re able to talk. For Black parents, such conversations are necessary to help our Black children navigate this world as safely as possible.
The sky here in New Orleans is overcast as I write this Thursday, reflecting our nation’s somber mood. Shortly after we talked, my daughter’s break from virtual school ended. From my office upstairs, I could hear her laughing with her classmates and shouting out answers in a Zoom language arts class. Next to her computer, I found a picture she drew of herself, her little sister and her mother and father. We all have smiling faces. We are dapperly dressed. The sky is blue. And the sun is shining.
Children represent the absolute best of humanity. Their resiliency, sanguinity, and largely untapped wisdom are the very traits that we as adults will need in order to persevere individually, and collectively. They know when something is wrong. They feel when something is off. The least we can do as adults, is be bold enough to face them, and tell them about the world in which they exist.
Notwithstanding life’s uncertainties — a sudden return to virtual school instruction, a violent attack on our Capitol — my daughter was able to view her day, as evidenced by her artwork, as sunny and happy. A part of me feels that by having that conversation with her, by honoring her truth, that my wife and I were able to ease her confusion and fears and restore the images of peace in her mind. After a night when she had trouble sleeping, our conversation allowed her to have sunshiny, smiley-faced day.
* The death toll increased to five after officials announced Thursday night the death of a U.S. Capitol Police officer who was attacked Wednesday.
Victor Jones, Ed.M., J.D. is a New Orleans-based attorney for children and higher education policy advisor. He is a former kindergarten teacher and holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University where he studied risk and resiliency in children and adolescents. Most important, he is a husband to Nikkole, and they have two daughters, Nola (6) and Zora (2).