Riots at the capitol: how to speak with children of any age

Children may struggle to understand the events of January 6, 2021 when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the outcome of the Nov. 3 election. Licensed clinical psychologist, Ramani Durvasula, joins Yahoo Life to share tips on how parents can address the difficult day with kids.

Video Transcript

RAMANI DURVASULA: When there is a day like there was, where there was so much public show of violence, how much do you protect your child from that imagery so they feel safe in the world? And how much do you bring them into a conversation about what happened?


Let's think about kids in sort of three ways. Let's start with really much younger children, like kindergarten or first grade. It is quite difficult for them to differentiate how close the danger is. It's very incumbent on parents or other adults around that child to let them know, yes, something's going on. This is not OK. We're safe. This building is actually far away from us, and we're OK here.

With parents of younger children, you really want to be careful in terms of how you keep the media coverage on in your house. The child will often see that image, may ruminate on that imagery, and not even know how to talk about it. Find your time, find your place, find a private space, maybe even after the child's gone to sleep.

As we go into older children coming out of elementary school, their critical thinking skills are starting to develop. They could point out Washington DC on a map and know that it's probably farther away from them or that the danger isn't right outside their door. But at that age, they are still developing critical thinking skills, and so there may be some confusion about what's happening or even the impending level of threat and the ramifications.

This could actually become a powerful teaching moment. Really, sort of how the governments are organized. What are the two houses of Congress that sit in the Capitol? You know why we're all safe, but that this is a real threat to democracy and why those things matter. And that this is not an appropriate way to take on views that don't agree with everyone else's.

Now when we get into older adolescents, so kids are maybe are getting into their junior or senior years of high school or even sophomore year of high school, and they may be capable of more critically thought out conversations, we want to give them a safe space to have these conversations. No, democracy is not going to be dismantled, but it shows that it can be threatened. And that you allow adolescents the opportunity to really bring them into an engaged, critical, thoughtful discussion.

If your kid seems to be burning out on the conversation, let it go down to something more mundane. Turn off the media coverage. Distract from it from time to time. I think there's a rich opportunity for conversation right now, but I also think there's a concerning opportunity for anxiety to really spin out of control, especially in kids who are already anxious.