How to Discuss the Chaos at the Capitol with Your Child

How to Discuss the Chaos at the Capitol with Your Child

The recent riots at the U.S. Capitol were shocking and tragic. As violent images and details of deaths from the protests continue to emerge, we struggle to make sense of the events that occurred. Our children, who have likely seen or heard details about these events, will also have many questions and may experience difficulty coping with what they have seen. Through on-going conversations with our children, we can help them understand and express their emotions, practice critical thinking and find ways to take positive action as they find their way in the current climate. Below are some guidelines to facilitate discussing and responding to the storming of the Capitol with your children.

1. Check in with yourself first.

What have you been thinking and feeling? What are your concerns? How have these events impacted you? Your children will want to know, and you should be prepared to provide honest, straightforward responses. It is OK to say, “I feel confused by what I’m seeing, too.” 

2. Clarify what your children understand

Ask your children what information they’ve heard, where they heard it and who they have talked to about it. Many children, especially younger ones, will have partial or incorrect information. Gently provide them with a simple explanation of what occurred. Follow their lead and answer the questions they ask without providing additional details.

3. Provide children with honest facts.

Regardless of your beliefs, remain neutral and avoid generalizations about “the other side” or about any group. This is particularly important if the other parent holds opposing views of the events. Resist the temptation to persuade your children toward your perspective and against the other parent. Being expected to align with one parent is likely to result in your children feeling insecure.

4. Ask your children what they are feeling.

Whatever they may be feeling, validate their concerns and let them know that many adults are also struggling with what occurred. Many children will experience fear and feel unsafe. Do not minimize their concerns. Rather, express understanding of what they are saying and explain what the nation is doing to further protect the country, what steps your city and community have taken and what steps you take to protect your family. Ask your children what they can do to remain safe. This can be an excellent segue to discuss the importance of calm, respectful dialogue and how to respond to others who are using verbal and/or physical aggression. 

5. Focus on the possibility of a better future and discuss solutions for change.

What can you and your children do to be good citizens and uphold values consistent with our democracy? There are many examples of youth making a difference in their community through peaceful action. Discuss with your children ways they can involve themselves in community or politically-oriented activities. Examples can include organizing a charity drive for a non-profit that interests them, writing letters to their legislators (there are many good templates online) or even exploring the possibility of involving themselves in their school’s student council.

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