Talking to kids about the U.S. Capitol attacks

By Leah Persky, PhD & Certified Family Life Educator  • Family Life Education Manager

The traumatic events of the last week have left a gaping hole in the foundation of our democracy and in our hearts. They also created yet another challenging and confusing situation for families and children to try to make sense of. However, before I get any further, we should all recognize how strong, capable and caring we are. We have come so far and accomplished so much over the past nine months, even though it doesn’t often feel like it. But trust me, we have come very far and grown immeasurably. Think back to when this all started in March 2020 – our lives and perspective have adapted in so many ways.

Even young children have most likely heard snippets of information about the insurrection at the Capitol or viewed the disturbing and hate-filled images from the event. I know that children in my son’s first grade class have been talking about the upcoming Inauguration ceremony, and asking questions about how these events are related to each other. These are difficult questions for teachers and caregivers to answer honestly, while also continuing to make children feel safe and secure. We know that this is not easy for any of us – and it comes as parents continue to manage the unprecedented demands of caregiving, parenting, domestic duties and professional obligations.

As I have discussed multiple times over the year, having direct conversations with children where children ask questions and adults provide simple and direct and truthful responses is the best way to begin difficult conversations. Children as young as 4-5 can benefit from these discussions, as no doubt they have probably already heard something about it from friends, siblings or media.

Older children may benefit from listening to a short news report that you have selected to spur conversation. The important thing is to leave space and time to have these conversations and to allow your child to ask real questions. They may not want to talk about it, and that is ok too. At least you have opened the door to conversation and this sets a very important foundation for hard conversations in the future.

As we begin 2021, I want us all to know that we are strong, resilient and have come so far in the past nine months. But even the strongest amongst us needs support and assistance during trying times. We can all make the effort to support those around us as much as possible and ask for the support we need in return. The outpouring of love of and kindness we have all witnessed in the last year could fill a volume of encyclopedias and we cannot overlook the small acts of love, kindness and support that occur each day around us.

Democracy and goodness have been under attack, but we know that they are not going anywhere. That is because of what we all do, the goodness we each have inside of us, and our ability and desire to stand up for what is right and to protect our democracy; really there is no alternative.

As a Certified Family Life Educator and JFCS Parent Coach, I am available for free 30-minute consultation calls to discuss the challenges that you and your family may be experiencing. This is not therapy, but I will work with you to come up with an actionable and forward-looking plan based on your family’s needs and goals. We work with all families with children ages 2 to adult and of all religions. 

We are here to support you. For more information and to submit an interest form, please go to:  https://www.jfcsmpls.org/parent-coaching-interest-form/

Check out these resources for additional ideas and information:

Sesame Street on Traumatic Experiences: https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/traumatic-experiences/

National Education Association: https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/talking-kids-about-attack-capitol