School districts discuss Washington, D.C. violence

Psychologist: No harm in asking kids if it caused stress

NEEDHAM, Mass. — It was an event that touched even Ally Stanton’s kindergarten class in Needham.

“I had a lot of students coming in this morning saying things such as Mommy and Daddy were watching a lot of news, bad guys got into the White House, there were bad people that were trying to hurt others in Washington,” Stanton said. “A lot of them were really concerned because they know that people shouldn’t be breaking into buildings... that it’s just not normal for them.”

In school districts around Boston, regular lesson plans were either pushed aside or modified to include discussions about the demonstration against the presidential election that turned into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“One of my students said that they couldn’t believe that the President would spur on violence, and that this was okay that it happened,” said Diana Cross, who teaches English as a Second Language to middle schoolers in Newton. “They also wanted to talk about how this related to black lives matter.”

Cross also spent time on finding the right words to describe the event -- and eliminating the wrong one.

“What happened yesterday was not a protest,” Cross said. “It wasn’t just an articulation that there’s an injustice happening. It was violent and it was chaotic. As I said to my students, several words you could use: an insurrection, a riot. We talked about the word ‘coup’ and we also talked about ‘sedition.’”

However schools talked about Wednesday’s event, it was vital that they did, said Eric Rossen, of the National Association of School Psychologists.

“To ignore something that’s so relevant to the potential emotional and mental health state of families and the staff and the students can be extremely harmful,” Rossen said. “So addressing it, talking about it... is the right thing to do.”

For younger children, Rossen said the key thing is always to address their safety concerns -- which is exactly what Stanton did with her students.

“The main thing is to validate the kid’s feelings, help them understand that it’s really okay to have these really hard feelings,” she said. “Listen to them and try to help them make sense of this. Yes there are really scary things happening in our world. But here at school we’re safe.”

Rossen said older children may not let on they have concerns. But that it truly does not hurt to ask. “It’s never a problem asking children if they’re stressed. Asking children if they’re stressed or confused or afraid does not cause them stress.”

What does cause them stress: Not answering questions they might have.

“What we want to avoid is dismissing those questions,” Rossen said. “You don’t want to know... you wouldn’t understand. That becomes more scary.”

As an American, Diana Cross actually had to discuss with her students -- who come from many parts of the world -- one of the scariest things of all.

“I framed it, to begin with, this is so important we’re discussing this in the sense that the United States is normally the country speaking out about this,” Cross said. “At this point, it’s the undermining of our democracy and it’s important that students know that.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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