How to talk to kids about the attempted coup at the US Capitol

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Parents may struggle to talk to their kids about the riot at the US Capitol.
  • Reassuring children about their safety while acknowledging the significance of the attack is important.
  • Providing accurate information in an age-appropriate way can help kids understand what happened.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As news comes out about the violent mob that stormed the Capitol last week, many parents may struggle to find the words to explain the events to kids.

Talking to kids about the attempted coup is important, according to Bethany Robertson, co-director of ParentsTogether, a non-profit aimed at providing reliable news to families.

“As parents, it’s our responsibility to help them process and understand what they may be seeing,” said Robertson, who has elementary-aged children. “Our kids are living history.”

Here’s how Robertson recommends talking to kids about January 6 and the current unrest in the US.

Gather your thoughts

Since the coup attempt was so jarring for many adults, it’s important that parents take a moment to gather their thoughts before talking to kids. Take a deep breath and make sure your anger, stress, and fear is under.

“Our kids respond as much to our emotion and moods as they might to what we say,” Robertson said.


Read more: How mums across the US are coping with pandemic-induced burnout

Be accurate and straightforward

Provide your kids with age-appropriate facts, using straightforward and accurate language. Don’t shy away from strong words like “insurrection,” Robertson says. Here are two phrasings that ParentsTogether recommends:

  • “The rioters are angry because President Trump and other politicians lied and told them the election was rigged against them. But that’s not true. People voted, we counted all the votes, and Biden won.”
  • “It’s like if a team lost a championship, but then the losing coach encouraged his players to steal the trophy from the winning team.”

Acknowledge differences between the Black Lives Matter protesters and the pro-Trump riot

Kids and teens who have seen glimpses of the news throughout the year likely noticed that the crowd at the January 6 riot looked and acted differently from protesters at Black Lives Matter events. Be upfront about the fact that white supremacy played a role in the riot, and differences in the way the rioters were treated, Robertson recommends.

“Kids get that there’s something really wrong about that,” Robertson said.

Ask your kids about their feelings about the difference between how pro-Trump rioters and BLM protesters were treated. Let them express their emotions and frustrations.

“It’s not surprising, and yet it’s not OK,” Robertson said.

Avoid partisan politics

It’s easy to fall into partisan politics when talking about the riot, but Robertson said that messages condemning the events can be more effective if you leave politics out of it.

“What’s really important to pull out for kids is this was an attack on our democracy,” she said. “This isn’t a partisan thing. This is about how we agree to live as a country.”

Try using phrasing like this suggestion from ParentsTogether: “I know this is a scary time, but most people in our country — people of all races, genders, ages, religions and sexual orientations — think that what happened was wrong. We will work together to protect our democracy.”

Give kids hope

It’s important to help kids see there’s hope for the future.

“That’s the most important thing all parents can do: without whitewashing things, give kids a sense of hope,” Robertson says.

She recommends pointing out the fact that on the same day as the riots, Georgia elected its first ever Black senator. You could also point out the bipartisan condemnation of the attack or the many people who stepped up to help.

Focus on safety

With a week until the President-elect Biden’s inauguration, many families are uneasy about the coming days. Do what you need to do to help you and your children feel safe, Robertson said, pointing out that safety will mean different things in different communities.

Overall, remind your kids that what happened last week is unacceptable, and that most Americans, regardless of political party, are dismayed.

“We can agree we want kids to know that violence is never the answer,” Robertson said.

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