Yesterday afternoon I sat on my couch watching the footage of the United States Capitol being overtaken by insurrectionists with my two teens. Along with the range of emotions, there were many questions. Today as we attempt unpack all that happened, your kids might want to talk about the events and what this means for our democracy. Here are a few tips on talking to kids about the attack on the U.S. Capitol and what is happening in our country.
6 Tips for Talking to Kids About the Attack on the U.S. Capitol
It can feel very scary to parent and teach when such monumental events occur that will forever shape our nation’s history. At home we’ve been talking about yesterday’s events on and off. This afternoon I’ll give my middle schoolers a safe space to process events with each other, with me or a counselor, or dive into work as a distraction.
Everyone processes in their own way.
As you work through your own understanding of current events, here are my 6 tips for talking to kids about the attack on the U.S. Capitol. I hope these provide guidance about how to discuss what is happening in our country in your home too.
Let Them Lead the Conversation
Over the course of the next few days, your children might want to talk about current events based on what they see or hear. They may hear a news soundbite, read a headline, see an image on your screen as they look over your shoulder, or catch a glimpse of something through their social media accounts.
When they bring up the topic, be prepared to let them lead the conversation. It’s easy to jump in and share our thoughts but it’s also important to listen.
Keep the Conversation Age Appropriate
As you listen, let them know it’s ok to have many thoughts and emotions about the events. Reassure them you’re here to help them process what happened.
Younger kids may have questions about safety and security while older tweens and teens are more inclined to view current events through a historical lens. The conversation you have with your elementary aged child should differ from the one you have with your middle or high schooler.
Middle and high schoolers understand the democratic process thanks to courses in U.S. history and government. They’re also more inclined to recognize systemic racism allowed yesterday’s events to unfold in Washington, D.C. They’ve witnessed repeated incidents of racial injustice and champion Black Lives Matter.
Common Sense Media’s Talking to Kids About the Violence at the U.S. Capitol (also in Spanish) features age appropriate questions for kids ages 2-7, 8-12, and teens. They advise using “age-appropriate questions to find out what kids and teens know about the events, and what questions they have, and to take care of their emotional well-being.”
A lot happened yesterday that caused us to have a range of emotions. To recap, one of my teaching colleagues summarized the events of the day with this list:
- Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the runoff election in Georgia leading to a Democratic Senate that will replace one that was majority Republican.
- Raphael Warnock became the first Black senator elected in Georgia.
- Jon Ossoff became the youngest Senator ever elected at age 29. Joe Biden was 29 years old when elected as a Senator of Delaware in the 1970s. Ossoff will also be the 2nd Jewish person to hold statewide office in Georgia.
- Insurrectionists, people who rebel against the government and the legal authority of the land, led a violent siege of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
- The siege took place during the certification of the presidential vote, which makes the election of Joe Biden as President-Elect official.
That’s a lot to unpack in the course of a week, let alone in the span of a few hours. Take your time in the conversations you’re having with your kids and remember it’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers. Because there’s not one easy answer.
But there’s never a bad time to revisit important conversations about race, privilege, equality and civil rights in age appropriate ways that make sense for your family, especially if your own children are asking questions about these topics.
But be honest about your feelings because this goes a long way in reassuring your child and creating trust.
Be Mindful of Mental Health
The ability to process current events takes time and space to be with our own thoughts. Model this for your kids by limiting your media exposure and taking care of your mental health.
Know when to turn off the television even if you like to have it on in the background. Be mindful of the podcasts you might be listening to on the smart speakers in your home. Recognize when you’re doom scrolling social media on your laptop or phone and step away.
Use free tools to manage your daily tech use and hold yourself accountable. Encourage your kids to unplug to maintain their digital wellbeing.
Seek Out Other Resources When Necessary
Because we don’t have all the answers, know when you need to do your own research to figure out ways to continue these important conversations in your home.
Here are some helpful resources about current events, racism, and violence to help families and fellow educators discuss these topics with students.
Resources About Events at the U.S. Capitol
- Responding to the Insurrection at the US Capitol from Facing History and Ourselves
- How to Engage Students in Civil Discourse Following Events at the U.S. Capitol from PBS News Hour
- Resources for Teachers on the Days After the Attack on the U.S. Capitol from Beyond the Stoplight
Resources for to Help Kids Understand Racism
- Racism and Violence: How to Help Kids Handle the News from ChildMind.org
- How White Parents Can Talk to Their Kids About Race from NPR
- Talking about Racism a roundup of resources, including ones in Spanish from ¡Colorín Colorado!
Resources for Talking About Violence
- Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers from National Association of School Psychologists
I hope my tips on talking to kids about the attack on the Capitol have been helpful in thinking about how to discuss what is happening in our country in your home too.
As always, thank you for reading and please remember to be patient and kind to yourself during a difficult time in our nation’s history.
Huge thanks to my teaching colleagues who were so quick to share resources to help our students understand the events that transpired on January 6th and my own teens who always inspire me through our conversations. This is NOT a sponsored post.