How Differently We Have to Explain ‘Insurrection’ to Children and Ourselves

So, the recent events that unfolded in our nation’s Capital brought Americans directly in front of their mirrors-PAST meeting PRESENT, to reflect on who this country is, and what we stand for. Are we the democracy that we are so proud to tell ourselves and everyone else? What do we tell our children is America?

trump nation
COVID-19, for months now, has forced everyone to stay at home. As a result also, this pandemic has presented many learning opportunities-“teachable moments” –for children and adults alike. We were rendered captive audiences, forced to watch television, for entertainment and for news. The nightly news, where ratings had continued to decrease, all of a sudden caught everyone’s attention. George Floyd, BLM, and then came- the ‘Insurrection’. Adults watched. Children watched. Families watched together. America in action. Those who didn’t watch right away, heard talk of the events at the Capitol Building, and were compelled to see for themselves. What a revelation!

What was thought to be impossible, exaggerations and complete lies about the actions alleged to have been taken by our police men and women and our elected and appointed officials, was played out in front of our eyes. There was no denying its truth. What was equally as shocking to watch was the heinous acts committed by our citizens themselves-and they were also white Americans.

Tough enough for black parents regarding necessary conversations to have with their children,  was to warn and prepare them for the potential, and highly probable interactions with law enforcement- the protocol, rules of engagement and the consequences. These discussions had become a ‘regular’ aspect of parenting. It was an unfortunate routine out of daily concern for their children’s safety; not about any criminal acts that their child may or may not have committed. It was about the assumptions of guilt held by police and the narratives that law enforcement held as justification for disregarding their rights. Seen as threats, not cautioning children against committing criminal acts, parents had to teach them how to act, what to do and what not to do in their presence.
You see, there has always been a double standard, two separate sets of rules and race-based experiences in American society. What was permissible behaviors and attitudes  for whites, was impermissible for blacks. Everyone understood that, and children grew up learning that as a fact of life as a black person in this country. Whites could exercise freedom of speech, and expect the presumption of innocence first. Whites could engage in conversations with authority figures without seeming ‘uppity’ or ‘sass-mouthing’. That was tolerated and accommodated.

Ask questions? If a black person dare question whites or law enforcement specifically, it was seen as defiance, an act of violence of sorts against them. After all of these years, there was still a ‘place’ for black folk. Worse than that, children were taught to understand that they had to stay in their place around whites, or anything belonging to or associated with white people.

Protests? With the knowledge that there was always a separate set of rules to abide by, their collective and unified voices of dissatisfaction are almost always peaceful, non-violent and definitely not destructive. Black people, when in protest mode, fight for total equality, equity and access- as no different from all others. The fight is never to destroy the democratic process or property, but rather to insist that we uphold its tenets in practice.Thus, discussions about the Capital and the ‘insurrection’ impacts black families much differently than it affects whites.

When we explain to ourselves or our children that which played out on television, it is not as life-shattering an issue for black parents. It rests upon the non families of color, to do the explaining and make sense of what they and their children saw on TV. Their messages are different and less confusing, mainly because by the time they become parents, they already understand America better than America understands itself.
In other words, blacks look at those images and tell themselves that it is confirmation that there is a double standard. They tell their children that these are acts that they could never imagine themselves doing and getting away with it or imagine  surviving.  For black people, it was evidence of that contradictory American standard practices.
They can say to themselves and their children, with certainty that this would never be allowed to happen at all had they been black. The National Guard, Local police and even the Marines would have been at the gates, steps with full riot gear. Rubber and real bullets would fly and people would lose their lives, be beaten and/or arrested, long before they made their way to the top step.

They tell themselves ‘see, that’s white people!” That is not their concern, because theirs is deeper and more basic than that. Many black families are certainly saying to one another, “Thank goodness they weren’t black people involved here.”  That is the extent to which they must explain the way people terrorized the very foundational pillars of government.

So, the many articles that are written and conversations that center around ways to explain that scene to children, it is a white conversation. What happened at that federal building, proved confusing and difficult to speak about, because what was shown was not black people in action. They were people who looked like themselves and their children. Whites teach and tell themselves to expect raw mob violence from black people. It is what the media reinforces. This latest scene dictated that it is this group who must explain to their children.
These people weren’t the Klan, wearing white robes, and they weren’t seeing Middle Eastern or indigenous folks either. They saw themselves and it was shocking. Certainly none of them thought that they would ever live to see such acts committed by the people for whom this country was structured and intended to benefit. 

Explanations? I can’t lie and tell you that I know what you should say to your children. What I do know with certainty is that it is time to reflect on your values, your core issues and concerns about this democracy. As flawed as we may be, this is certainly among the best governments designed for white people. Its documents suggest all people, but somehow white people, still reaping the benefits of this government, are apparently feeling threatened, fearful and incredibly angry and destructive.

capital mess
What has to be explained to children is why there is so much anger, fear and why things like this can happen when they are the actors- perpetrating such violence. Explanations must center around how fear can become anger and rage and then violence; pure lawlessness.

Why was the law rendered helpless? That is never seen in real life, on TV and truly not what we lead children to believe ever happens. The ‘good guys’ did nothing. They allowed themselves to be overrun, overpowered and made to look either inept or complacent, and otherwise nonexistent in that situation.

Try to explain, first to yourselves, to make sure that it makes sense and that you can answer these questions honestly. Ask those very basic questions and try to come up with answers that are the real true answers. Children can no longer stomach lies that we have been telling ourselves and them for generations now. This generation has their own sources of information, and they can compare notes, easily.

Be honest. If you don’t have any answers, begin by reading the various accounts of what happened. Look for information that contradicts your belief, and explore them all. Your jobs are made more complex if you believe that children aren’t going to go online and look for their own answers. They will hear from other people.
As the saying goes-“keep it real”. This may be one of the most important discussions to hold with your children. What you tell them needs to be well thought out. As much as we know about children’s brain development, we should know that they know, fundamentally, when we aren’t being forthcoming. They may just ignore you. You will have to tell your children about white privilege, and identify its roots as being white supremacy. What you have to tell them is that both of these are fallacies, myths, and reasons to be lazy and get automatic rewards and allows one to be rewarded absent merit, hard work, but by melanin content alone.

You will have to engage in the examination of all that Confederacy means, and what it has meant in this country. Above all else, explanations to children will certainly center on and connect to racist ideologies. Explain how they connect. Explain that racism  became a prevalent perspective that influenced practices, including laws. You may even have to show evidence of where and how these laws were written. Finally, you may be called to connect the past with the present, as they are still so clearly inter-related.

Don’t let them tune you out now. There will come a time when children will need you to tell them the truth, and are counting on it from you. Disappoint them and you may just set a terrible precedence, from which you may never recover, as parents to whom your children look for guidance. The truth is always best, but you must be open to that truth first. All conversations are that much easier  when you are sure of the truths and also recognize the tendency for people to embrace their own manufactured truths.

mob scene

Children need to know why those people did what they did. Although no one can say with absolute certainty, there is a root cause and factors that influenced them as well. American parents, white parents, it is this latest incident that will force everyone to reflect. Reflect? The incident at the Capitol Building just presented another opportunity for us all to get things right. We can now begin the process of either, being strong enough to stand up for what’s right versus what’s not. Or we can pretend that we don’t know what happened or why or where the initial seedling came from. It wasn’t President Trump, although he had a big hand in these events. It is deeper rooted than he alone; he just tapped into it as it had been cleverly hidden to the masses.

Will you tell your children the same old stories? Will you tell children or each other that this was a sad look at American hatred? Did this arise out of love for this country or a hatred for the ‘other’ in this country? That hatred is an outward symptom of an inward fear. How do you feel about these issues?

How do you wish your children to feel, grow to believe about themselves? Do you wish them to feel ‘entitled’ or ‘competent’? Competent implies a sense of self-esteem, confidence in one’s own ability and worth by deeds. Entitled implies a feeling that one is owed something just because. Rather, because they put in the work, met the competition unafraid and fully prepared, certain that they are qualified, with the strength of character to accept the possibility that someone else may be more qualified and prevail. A fair fight throughout life. Is it helpful that it is skin color that determines what one can do or where one can go in life?  

Decide to take in some harsh truths about who we are as human beings, American citizens and as parents and teachers of the next generation. Do we wish this for their future, too? Remember that the future you may want to see for your children may not be the world in which they wish to live. This is an opportunity for America to take the ‘blinders’ off to face some harsh truths and show our youngest people that we are better, stronger, more informed and educated than our past.

If we recognize a problem,  we have to openly admit that there is a problem. This is a problem for America, and not a novel one. Don’t ‘whitewash’ it. Also, remember that, if anyone is even the least bit proud of their actions on that day, there would be no national efforts to identify and apprehend these folk. They would speak out and stand proud of their participation. To me, it sends a message that there is deeply felt shame for what was done. Tell the truth-shame the Devil! Your children will respect your honesty.

This latest stain on history was an event that also serves as an opportunity to commit to growth and positive change. Show who you really are, the values you hold dear and demonstrate that, above all else, you are willing to uphold every one of the values you teach and sometimes preach to your children,  with consistency. In the end, it remains a personal decision. What and how did you tell your children?



Virtual ParentCamp on Wednesday June 17, 2020: Register and Be There!

On Wednesday June 17, 2020 at 8PM EST, 5PM PST, I will be hosting a session on Comprehensive Family Wellness. The session’s title is: Defining and Maintaining Family and Child Wellness In and Out of Pandemic Crises. 

Daniel Ibarrondo, J.D., Ed.S., Ed.D

My Co-facilitator, co-host, is Dr. Daniel Ibarrondo, JD, Ed.S., Ed.D., Associate Dean of Online Programming at Cambridge College in Charlestown, Massachusetts. I am both proud and honored to have him join us in this national conversation on wellness. He will place an all-important focus on creating and adapting to “new normal” parent-child-school paradigms. Come into our room and share. Join the conversation!

Register for this week and plan to join conversations each week to follow, with discussions ranging from career selection to school and community partnerships to parenting and teaching with diversity considerations. Educators, parents, students, practitioners and family advocates are our target audiences. Come in, join a room or visit many rooms, every Wednesday at VirtualParentCamp. You will leave feeling enlightened, supported, heard and better prepared to integrate family engagement practices as critical to achievement and strengthening communities.

See you there!





“SIDEWALK CHALK ART”: The ‘New’ Socially- Conscious and Environmentally-Friendly Graffiti

In the 1980s, as so-called ‘urban’ youth were feeling left out, forgotten and unacknowledged by society, they took to subway trains and building walls and other public spaces to scream out, “look at me, here I am, I want to be recognized”. They gathered aerosol paint cans and paint brushes and took their messages to the streets. It was then deemed criminal, vandalism and defacing public property.  Now, in hindsight, it was and still is art. We didn’t understand or agree with their messages but, people need an outlet for expression, whatever the message.

There are thousands and maybe more ways to connect with others at this time, in the midst of social distancing and self-isolation. You can demonstrate your gratitude for ‘first responders’. You can help brighten someone’s day or provide a ray of hope- a positive light for those who feel like life will never return to ‘normal’ as they may feel all alone and unacknowledged. COVID-19 has shaken us all up in one way or another. There is confusion, anxiety, stress, and sadness.

Although we want to do the right thing here, we all just want to go outside and play, whatever that means to you. The thing is that whatever play means, we want to feel the freedom to do so.

Children can’t just go outside and play with their friends as they once could, and there is this new ‘normal, or the way I see it, a new ‘abnormal’ that we live in now. But, we can stick this thing out, hang in there.

photo of a man in white t shirt coloring on gray pavement next to a building

For those of us who are finding it harder and harder to stay indoors, all you need is some encouragement. We can encourage each other. If you are fortunate enough to live in a nice tree-lined street, with the luxury[that we take for granted] of having a sidewalk, a street-facing window, or a front door,[which most of us do have], send your message. This is the ‘new’ socially-conscious graffiti of our times!

You can offer encouraging words or images. You can tell people that you care and appreciate them, as well. There are people in other countries, like Italy, whom we’ve seen coming together and showing their support for each other and patriotism and gratitude for health care workers who go out and fight the good fight every day.

close up photo of smiling girl covering mouth

What if there was a way for your community to do likewise? So, you don’t sing or play an instrument. Bring out your creative side anyway. Get some chalk, preferably sidewalk chalk, it will eventually fade away. So, it is not permanent. Go outside to your sidewalk, or your driveway and make some art. Scribble some words of pleasantry on your sidewalk. Yes, on the ground. Show your belief that we are in this together and LET EVERYONE KNOW IT.

girl drawing on the floor using chalks

Take your children with you. Draw sunflowers, rainbows, etc…Send a positive message to your neighbors, to the world. Kids can say ‘hello’ to their friends. If enough people in your block do the same, have a chalk art contest. At Christmas time, there always seems to be almost friendly competition between neighbors to come up with the best light display. Why not now, too?

It gives people something to do, while maintaining social distancing. It’s fun. It’s family fun. It’s pretty. These messages that are spelled out on concrete are environmentally-friendly. No special chemicals are needed to erase them from any surfaces. With the power of nature and weather, they will all disappear, leaving surfaces as they once were, but the messages will always linger in our memories.

You can always make a video of your display, and save and share it, while others do the same. There can be a designated date of completion, for contest purposes. Everyone can drive by each other’s houses for a virtual vote. Social distancing respected. You can even walk through your block, each family at a specified time, in order that no one gathers and violates distancing rules.

You can send messages to a loved one via video or pics to demonstrate your love and respect. Work with the idea and make it your own. If chalk doesn’t work for you, maybe you all will decide to use holiday lights to display  your messages. Teddy bears in the windows. Go crazy. Have fun. Share your art online. Take the little freedoms left in respect to staying safe and slowing the spread of the coronavirus and tell the world that you have hope.   Just have fun- together, but separately!


How to De-escalate a Mental Health Crisis in the Home

During this time of sheltering in place and while America is on ‘pause’, many families are experiencing stress from many different directions. In an effort to keep everyone safe and slow the spread of the COVID-19 viral pandemic, non-essential businesses, schools and a host of  service provider agencies are temporarily closed. Parents are at home from work, children are at home from school-the entire family is under one roof, together 24 hours each day. For some families, that dynamic alone, can be stressful, and may overwhelm-challenging their ability to share the same space without incident.

There is one population about whom we rarely mention–those with existing mental health disorders or psychiatric diagnoses. Persons with anxiety disorders, depression and with psychoses- are also at home. Depending on the diagnosis and level of severity, many with mental health conditions have their illnesses managed with prescription medication. Day habilitation and outpatient treatment programs are likely closed in this health crisis. Supports are limited, and it is up to the skills of the family to maintain functioning levels.

There is always the possibility,  particularly while in self-isolation, that someone in your home may experience a mental health crisis. It may be a first time occurrence, which can be scary for both that person and the loved ones at home. Should a loved one in your home experience a crisis, it is important that you are prepared, by being able to recognize a mental health crisis when you see it, and have a working knowledge of things you can do to de-escalate the situation. Priority number one is to reduce the potential for harm.


A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively in the community.

Many things can lead to a mental health crisis and examples of situations that can lead or contribute to a crisis include:

  • Home or environmental stressors
  • School/work stressors
  • Using or abusing drugs/alcohol
  • Starting new medication or new dosage of current medication
  • Stopping medication or missing doses
  • Treatment stops working

Anyone that may be going through a mental health crisis may experience guilt, anger, or grief. It is important to address a mental health emergency quickly and effectively. Some individuals who are dealing with a mental health illness may not exhibit any warning signs. Please remember no one is to blame, not the person or the family.


It is important to know and recognize the warning signs that an individual may be struggling with so that you can support them in the best way possible.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), these are the most common warning signs:

  • Inability to perform daily tasks, bathing, getting dressed, etc.
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Increased agitation, risk-taking/out of control behavior
  • Abusive behavior to self or someone else
  • Isolation from school, work, family, and friends
  • Loss of touch with reality
  • Paranoia


Keep these important techniques in mind in the event of a crisis. Remember that you are there to listen, be supportive, and get the person the help they need. Do your best to remain calm, and let them know that you are there for them and they are not being judged.

  • Keep your voice calm
  • Avoid overreacting
  • Listen to the person
  • Express support and concern
  • Avoid continuous eye contact
  • Ask how you can help
  • Move slowly
  • Offer options instead of trying to take control
  • Be patient
  • Avoid touching the person unless you ask permission
  • Gently announce actions before initiating them
  • Give them space, don’t make them feel trapped
  • Don’t make judgmental comments
  • Don’t argue or try to reason with the person


5 Steps for Mental Health First Aid

You can help in a crisis situation by following the ALGEE action plan:

A– Assess for risk of suicide or harm
L– Listen non-judgmentally
G-Give reassurance and information
E-Encourage appropriate professional help
E-Encourage self-help and other support strategies

What Is A ‘Safety Plan’?

  • Step 1 – Warning signs that a crisis may be developing
  • Step 2 – Internal coping strategies, things I can do to take my mind off my problems without contacting another person (relaxation technique-physical activity)
  • Step 3 – People and social settings that provide distraction.
  • Step 4 – People whom I can ask for help.
  • Step 5 – Professionals or agencies I can contact during a crisis. (Therapist, emergency contact, AA, NA, PACT team worker)
  • Step 6 – Making the environment safe.

If you cannot de-escalate the crisis yourself, you can seek additional help from mental health professionals who can assess the situation and determine the level of crisis intervention required. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. You just might save the life of a loved one.