Get every episode delivered automatically!

Episode summary:

In this timely conversation, Susan and Dr. Laura Markham share guidance about how to talk with children about the violent outbreak that took place at the Capitol building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

Dr. Laura Markham earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Columbia University author of bestsellers Peaceful Parent, Happy KidsPeaceful Parent, Happy Siblings; and the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook. She makes frequent TV and radio appearances and has been interviewed for thousands of articles by publications as diverse as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Parents Magazine. Dr. Markham's relationship-based parenting model has helped thousands of families find transformative solutions to everything from separation anxiety and sleep problems to sass talk and cell phones. www.ahaparenting.com


Things you'll learn from this episode:

adjust
A kid-friendly discussion about the evolution of democracy
adjust

How to offer comfort and support to anxious kids

adjust

Ways to include children in conversation about differences in political beliefs

Stay up to date!

Would you like to receive free parenting articles, practical tips, upcoming events, and new podcast episodes directly to your inbox?
Sign up below to receive updates about my work!

settings
settings
Episode Transcript


Speaker 1:


Hello, and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm your host, Susan Stiffelman. I'm the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. I'm a marriage and family therapist, a teacher, a long time parenting coach and a mom. And I'm so glad that you're here. This podcast is really a chance for me to share some of the things I've learned in the 40 plus years I've been doing this work. My aim is always to help you have more fun and fewer power struggles with your children. Today is a special episode. It's one that frankly, I had not planned to record until the events in Washington DC. And I just wanted to offer some words of support to parents who are fielding questions from their children, that they never imagined that they would have to answer about why a president is fighting election results or why people stormed one of our hallowed government buildings with so much anger and aggression.


Speaker 1:

I'm joined today in conversation by my good friend and colleague Dr. Laura Markham. Dr. Laura is the author of wonderful articles in two best-selling books, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and her articles and classes offer help to thousands of families. Gosh, tens of thousands around the world and her website is ahaparenting.com. We'll talk more about that later. She's got a wonderful newsletter. I've been lucky enough to have collaborated with Laura. A number of times on classes for parents, including our wonderful three-part series on raising siblings, which was a huge favorite. And she will be joining me January 21st with Dr. Tina Bryson for a masterclass on raising resilient kids, boy is it a good time for that. Laura, we need this. So I'm so glad you could join me for today's conversation. Thank you. I'm so sad about the circumstances prompting our discussion. Let's dive in. Let's start by talking about how parents can address a child's questions about what happened at the Capitol building in Washington, DC.


Speaker 2:

Okay. Well, I think you and I would both always start from the most important foundational thing we want to offer our children. And that is a sense of safety. And I think it makes, when you see the media images of confrontations and, you know, doors being hammered down and people climbing walls, it's very scary for the person seeing those images. So of course we don't want our children to see those images. And when we see them, we have to be aware of the effect on us and process our own fears before we can be the secure base that our children need us to be.


Speaker 1:

And, you know, while this is happening in real time, I know I had meetings that I ended up canceling because it was just so compelling and powerful and frightening. It isn't always so easy to simultaneously manage our own feelings and emotions so that we can be present and calm for our kids and be present and calm. So we do the best that we can. And one of those elements, of course, which we repeat many times at times, sad, sadly at times like these, which we have visited before is that we limit media exposure. Now, of course that's more relevant for younger children than teenagers, but it can be challenging to sort of disengage and turn things off for a little while, but so important. Would you agree?


Speaker 2:

Yes. I think first of all, young children, children who are under the age of say eight or nine, really shouldn't be exposed to this if possible. Now, you know, I could easily see a 10 year old. Who's excited about the news and has been following what's been happening in Georgia and then starts to become aware of what's happening with the Capitol building. I could easily see that happening. So there's no way we can keep kids completely separate from something that's so immediate and affects all of us. And I'm not suggesting we lie to our kids, but I think there's a real difference between our, our being the mediator. You know, when my son was 10, we read the New York times together and that's different than watching a broadcast where you're seeing these images in front of you. That would be very distressing, you know, an image of a hurricane or an earthquake or whatever. People, you know, battering down the doors of the Capitol. So I think we need to limit media intake and we need to be careful what our kids are relating to. And some things are more powerful than others, and then we need to be there to talk about it.


Speaker 1:

Yeah. And some of that, I love that. And I love that idea that we recognize that in some cases it's inevitable that the TV will be on, especially when you have older children around, but to take pauses and to slow down and maybe to make physical contact or eye contact, or take a pause and have a cup of tea together. I love that image of you with your son reading the paper, because it's a slower process to digest information that's been written than to see these fast action multi-camera images of a roaring crowd. And so, you know, to slow things down to hit the pause button, even with older kids and to check in not only with your child, but with one of the things that I found really helpful as this was unfolding, was to have those pauses and to make contact with a friend or a loved one. I had a good conversation with my son is very politically savvy and I noticed that my nervous system kind of settled down, just being able to talk about it. So do you want to expand on that? Or you can take this in another direction and offshoot, if you'd like,


Speaker 2:

I would love to comment on the TV being on, because I actually think that there was that it does not serve us at those moments to keep the TV on. If there's some issue that's going to affect you directly, like you live near the Capitol building, then maybe you want to keep the TV on. But I think otherwise really I would turn it off and I would check in on a regular basis the same way I would do if there were an election going on or some other major world event that I did want to know what was happening, but you don't need to let it remember broadcast media is a business and their business is selling advertising, but what are they really selling when they sell advertising? They're selling us the viewer. So they need to keep us riveted. So they're there, they are best served by presenting the most exciting version of what's happening.


Speaker 2:

And also the most fear-inducing, there's a fine line between fear and excitement, right? And so we are, if we let ourselves be used that way, we're sort of fodder for our nervous systems being blown away by that presentation. It's not necessary to keep a TV on ever. You could keep something streaming on a computer in one room. You know, you put your laptop in your, you know, in one room in your bedroom or something on the dresser. If you have older kids and they want to go check it, it's fine. But that way it's not setting the tone of your household. So I think we need to just observe what we allow to be created as the atmosphere in our homes. And also then we protect the more vulnerable members of our family who may not understand it or, and are riveted by the excitement, but also end up with nightmares that night.


Speaker 1:

So let's talk about how to discuss what happened with the children. And maybe let's start with a seven, eight, nine year old child who in one way or another has become aware that the events yesterday with president Trump being very unhappy, disbelieving the results of the election, making the efforts that he did to speak to a crowd and what happened afterward? How can we frame that for children in a way that not only isn't scary that doesn't undermine all the lessons we've been trying to teach them the values that we've tried to share and also might inspire them to reflect, do some of their own thinking and reflection.


Speaker 2:

I think that's the perfect question for parents to focus on. And I think we can talk to children in terms that are meaningful to them. So for instance, we, we might describe what happened by asking them about what they see when somebody is a sore loser. And I wouldn't normally use that term sore loser. I did hear someone use it on, on a newscast yesterday, but basically ask your child. So, you know, it's like a game on the playground. So what happens in baseball or in soccer, if one team scores, they have a run or they score a goal and the other team refuses to acknowledge it, what would happen then? Well, if it's just a game with kids out on the playground, and it's not a professional game or a school game, then they might have a big argument. And then they wouldn't, they would decide, okay, we have to follow the rules to have a good game in play together.


Speaker 2:

And they might, they, you know, they would follow the rules. They might have a recount, so to speak you know, in a school game, there would be a referee. And in the democracy of the United States of America, we have a referee. We have a very elaborate system of certification of results, state by state. Everything's all written down. The rules are all written down. And that doesn't mean it's not disappointing to lose, you know, Mitt Romney who ran for president and lost when he made his speech last night, he's a Republican Senator. He said, you know, I've been on the losing end. It's hard to be on the losing end. It's disappointing to lose, but you need to put that aside and do what's right for the country. And you know, this is how it works. This is the set of rules, because what is government government is a set of rules that we've agreed on to live together and how to work out problems together.


Speaker 2:

And so I think we can tell our child who's seven, eight, or nine, some version of that and ask them, well, what did they think happens if somebody says, no, I'm not going to live by that system. I want to, you know, I want to, I want to just, I'm just, I mean, it's actually, if they're using their might and threatening people, physically that's bullying, but if they, if they're saying, I insist, I won and I'm going to claim the victory here, you know, where does that leave? All the other kids who were playing. And so I think that's, that's one conversation to have with kids. And I would pay really good attention to what your child has already heard, because they may have heard things that make them feel unsafe. Maybe they're less interested in that part of the discussion that I just shared, and maybe they're more interested in, well, are there going to be gangs of people hammering on the doors of our house?


Speaker 2:

Right. So I think it's really important that we, before we share information or metaphors, you know, of how it works to start with, wow, what did you hear about what happened today? And they will tell you, and you give them a hug and say that must've been scary to hear that. Tell me more, what do you think about that? And they'll start to share what bothered them and you can reassure them. And I think it's super important that we reassure them, that democracy in our country is still evolving. We're still noticing the parts that have to be refined, and we're still making those better. You know, like we, we didn't give women the vote that long ago. You know, African-American people, even after slavery was abolished, had to pay poll taxes until that was eradicated. We're still noticing the weak points in the system. We've hit a new one that is a result of our experiment with the internet, learning to manage information on the internet and how you handle misinformation. Right. But we don't have to scare our children without we can say, this is what's happening. We're learning how to do it. You are safe. I will keep you safe. Adults have got this. I think that's, what's scary to kids as they go, Oh, is everything in a shambles? Is it, is it barbarism to adults not have this? And I think the truth is we saw last night, adults did have it. Yeah. Right. But I think kids are to be forgiven for being frightened of those images.


Speaker 1:

Absolutely. And as you say, that's what sells papers or the equivalent these days, that's what sells advertising hours or minutes. And, but I love that. We start with checking in with a child to see what questions they actually have, what they're harboring. And to remember that that will evolve and change their questions this morning, or today might be about what happened at the Capitol building or whether they're safe. And then they might hear something from a friend or from a sibling and, and move on to more complex questions or circle back to the original question. So w you know, it requires a certain flexibility and adaptability within us to be present for wherever they are in that moment. I do want to touch on something that is very touchy and tough to address because we embrace everyone in this podcast. We don't purport to have a position or, you know, want to kind of impose our views on our listeners, but it does raise the question.


Speaker 1:

How could someone, who's the president of the United States who got to the highest position in our government, be such a sore loser and say things that aren't true. Now, this is a tricky question, and I don't expect us to resolve it. And hopefully we'll do some follow-ups. So everyone stay connected with both of us in our newsletters, so that you get updates on, on how these conversations will evolve. But let's touch on that, Laura, to talk about the, the confusion that children understandably have when they see someone in such a position of power and influence behaving as this president has chosen to behave.


Speaker 2:

Well, I think the way into that discussion is something that most kids over the age of say 10 have heard about, and that is checks and balances. Why we, we all know we have a government of checks and balances. If you had basic history classes that re that address, dressed governance at all. And why do we need checks and balances? Well, because in fact, power can corrupt. We know this power can corrupt people can abuse, power, absolute. I mean, there, there I shared when my kids were growing up the phrase “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely” often when we talked about the way things work in the world and how we have to set up a system where people are held accountable for things, but also why we want to raise empathic children. I think it's super important that we all learned to put ourselves in other people's shoes, because we're then less likely to abuse power.


Speaker 2:

And I think that's the work you and I do. And every parent listening, if they're listening to you and me, they are concerned about helping their child develop empathy and be a good person. And that's what every parent listening wants. And so if some of the parents listening, voted for Trump or thought that it was a good thing to have Trump be elected, they did. So based on their judgment, that he would do things that were good for their family or good for the country. And I think then we need to talk about media and ask kids. Okay. So if, if people believed, you know, what, if Trump, I don't know that Trump actually believes that he won the election. It wasn't even close, right. Three Oh six to two 32 is not a close electoral vote. Right. And of course, you know, the, the many billions of, of, of direct votes, but that doesn't decide anything.


Speaker 2:

So I think he, based on what people in the White House are saying, he actually doesn't believe he won, but he doesn't want other people to see him as a loser, because that is so hurtful to him to see himself as a loser. And we all have felt that way. We can all understand it, but of course we're not in charge of the country, you know? So, so he has needed to put out on in the media, a story that he didn't lose. That story has been has had, has been challenged repeatedly. I mean, there were what, 60 lawsuits, all of which he lost, there was zero case put forward. But if you read certain media presentations of this, they support what Trump is saying, even though it's not true. And I think again, so we live in a democracy. Democracy depends on a free press.


Speaker 2:

If you, if you studied the theories of democracy, democracy depends on our free press, not beholden to anyone, the government, the billionaires, anyone and press has changed in the last 20 years, press now includes all corners of the internet, where anybody can publish whatever they want. So I think if there are parents listening today who believe that the based on what Trump has been saying that the election was stolen, it's because they're receiving information that has told them that. And I think that's really an important conversation to have with kids is that no, you know, most people are good and they want to be good people and they want what's right. And they, if they believe that the election was stolen, they want to stand up and do what's right. And challenge that. And so the way you challenge it in our system is the court system, et cetera.


Speaker 2:

And it turns out there was no case, but if you're watching the media, you're not being told that. So I just think we need to ask kids, what do they think about lying? What do they think the repercussions for lying should be on social media or in broadcast media or whatever? I think, you know, then it's, we go a step further and say, when one branch of government, I mean, you think about checks and balances. We have, you know, the electorate elected congress people and senators. And then we have the elected president and then we have the appointed Supreme Court and they each have their role to play. And when one gets out of line, the others are supposed to be the check and balance to that. So what happens when one of those branches of government explicitly encourages violence against another of the branches of government, should that person be allowed to continue to serve? And I think that's what happened. That was so stunning to everyone yesterday. We haven't seen that in our history. And I think, again, it has highlighted for us away that we need to evolve our democracy.


Speaker 1:

So, so, so true. And, you know, as you were talking, I was also reflecting on a thought that I often have when I'm sometimes puzzled by people who feel so passionately or align themselves so passionately with a position that doesn't really have a lot of evidence to support it. And it sort of harks back to my training as a psychotherapist, which is that we all carry our own internal losses and pains and wounds. And sometimes we identify with someone. So no doubt. There are people who have felt that they lost something that they really wanted to win. Maybe they felt the shame of that loss or the humiliation. And they have identified with our president in this scenario who also suffered a defeat. And so it can rally person whose own pain is getting reactivated or outrage. And that I have seen in, at least from my point of view, can sometimes explain why people will override good sense, or even the values that they know matter on behalf of something that's gotten stirred up. Do you know what I'm talking about?


Speaker 2:

I do. And I also think that I think you're totally right, that we carry our pain with us. If we don't work it out. And the definition of well violence, one definition of violence is when we can't deal with our own pain, we act it out onto others. And I think that is what happened yesterday. Yeah. I also think our country has in recent years had more and more division where money has been flowing to the top. There's I think every economic analyst would confirm that, and therefore it's not working so well for lots of people, people who their parents had a dream of a better life for their kids. And now those kids are, you know, 50 and have kids of their own. And they can't see a better life for their children. It's a worse life.


Speaker 2:

And that is, you know, and when you see how many new people there are, you know, making over a million dollars a year compared to those people at the bottom who are stuck and don't have a future, you can see why people would be wounded, why they would be angry, why they would be feel powerless and disenfranchised. And I think those that when you feel that way, naturally, you're going to start questioning the system. It's certainly not working for everybody. Right. And you might be voting for Bernie Sanders who wants more programs that some people call socialist programs, but in fact are all over most of Europe or you might be voting for Trump who says he's going to clean the swamp out. But of course, didn't actually do that. If you look at what happened. So either there would be reasons why you would be open to a political message like that.


Speaker 2:

Even if you didn't like everything about the guy, even if you thought, yeah, he gropes women. But so to the Democrats, you know, there, there could be lots of reasons that you might rationalize a vote for Trump. If you thought he would actually shake up the system. And I, I spoke to many people who voted for Trump, not really even knowing very well what he stood for, but thinking that it would shake up the system. The problem is shaking up is not a well-thought position, right. And acting out of pain is not a well thought vote. What we need to do actually is better civic education with our kids and more real discussion as a democracy where we find more shared ground, because we actually have more shared values than we are seeing presented the press or by our politicians.

Speaker 1:

That is so true. So true. What a great conversation, Laura, thank you so much.


Speaker 2:

Okay. Thank you. I'm so glad that, that we were able to talk today. I just want to encourage all the parents who are listening to not be afraid of this discussion with their kids, you know, protect them from be the intermediary between your child and media, but have discussions about fairness. Every parent in the world has heard it's not fair from their child, right. Have discussions about what's fair. Is it fair if somebody uses their, their physical braun to get their way in a disagreement? You know, that's a great question to ask a kid, how do we work things out with our words instead of resorting to fists and why do we encourage children and adults to do that? Right. So I think there's, there's a wealth of discussion here to have with children. So don't feel like it's a taboo topic. But just make sure you take care of yourself along the way so that you can stay calm in talking to with your child.


Speaker 1:

Yes. Because they take their cues from us. They will watch and feel into our state. So the old adage put your own oxygen mask on first, very much applies. Yes. So Laura, gosh, it's, it's just it's a relief, honestly, to be able to talk openly about this. So this is what we recommend to those of you listening, find a listening partner, find someone you can sort of hash out some of your thoughts and feelings with, and don't again, don't be afraid to do in an age appropriate way, make yourself available for your children to do the same. My website, as you all know, as susanstiffelman.com and you can sign up for my newsletter there. And you're going to find out about this class that Laura and I will be teaching with Dr. Tina Bryson on January 21st on raising resilient kids. I'm so glad we're doing that. And Laura, would you share a little bit about your website and your newsletter?


Speaker 2:

Certainly you can find me online ahaparenting.com like those aha moments where things can change ahaparenting.com. And I have a newsletter that you can sign up at the bottom of any page of that website. And the newsletter is a weekly compilation of articles where I'm supporting your ability to be the calm patient parent you want to be as well as helping you learn child development tips to help your child want to cooperate and to connect with your child at different ages.


Speaker 1:

Yes, it's wonderful. So we're so lucky to be able to do this work. I'm so grateful to all of you who are listening as always, if you find these podcast episodes helpful, please leave a rating or review or tell a friend or all of the above. We've had over 400,000 downloads of the series and it's because you all help get the word out. So thank you. And remember, you can hit the subscribe button if you'd like to be notified as soon as a new is released. So thank you again, Laura. My pleasure. And that's it for today. Everyone take good care of yourselves and remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness, enjoy, stay safe, stay well. And I'll see you next time.



[bot_catcher]