How to talk to your kids about the breach at the U.S. Capitol

"Think what our children watching television are thinking," says President-elect Joe Biden

Capitol Hill protests
Tasos Katopodis / Getty

The images are shocking and scary. An armed mob swarmed the Capitol building Wednesday and as of this writing, one woman has been shot. The mob supports outgoing President Donald Trump and, despite all evidence to the contrary, believes he won the election.

President-elect Joe Biden also addressed Americans, calling on the mob to leave and asking them to consider "what our children watching television are thinking."


President Trump addressed the nation, calling the election fraudulent while calling for peace and asking the mob to go home.

This is the kind of event that can leave children feeling unsafe and unsure if adults can protect them.

In the face of that fear, we parents can empower ourselves to protect our children's sense of security and their mental health.

Psychologists Dr. Laurie Zelinger and her husband, Dr. Fred Zelinger, previously told Motherly that parents can deal with terroristic events and disasters by quelling our own anxiety first. “Turn off the TV once you know what's going on and don't obsessively watch or listen to the news," Fred suggests. “If it's two parents [in the household], talk to each other."

That's what the Zelingers have done in their own household over the years.

Laurie is a child psychologist and author of Please Explain 'Terrorism' to Me: A Story for Children, PEARLS of Wisdom for Their Parents. She says that if one parent is feeling a lot of anxiety, it's okay to let the other parent take the lead in a discussion with the kids. Both parents, though, should be mindful to keep their own fears and anxiety in check so that kids feel a sense of security.

“Even if [you're] not comfortable, you have to do a couple of things to make yourself look more comfortable," she suggests. “Talk much more slowly than you think you need to, and sit at your child's eye level."

The Drs. Zelinger suggest the first step in creating an atmosphere of comfort is making sure kids are warm and cozy, so cuddle up with a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa, but don't start heavy discussions with your kids right at bedtime. Instead, set aside an earlier time in the day to hang out with your kids and answer their questions.

If the idea of talking about this event with your kids has you frazzled, try using Dr. Zelinger's 'PEARLS' of wisdom method.

P is for Prepare

Before discussing the events at the Capitol with your children, decided what you think they need to know, and plan out how you're going to explain it at an age-appropriate level. “They don't need every detail," says Fred.

E is for Explain

If your child wants to know why everyone keeps talking about this, tell them, but keep it simple and on their level. “I would probably give them an explanation that was only two or three sentences and see if that satisfies them," says Laurie.

If it seems like your kid isn't getting what you're saying, as them to break it down for you. “You cannot assume that what you say is understood, unless you check," says Fred.

A is for Answer

If your child asks the same question more than once, try to use the same explanation each time you respond. “You're usually better off using the same answer you used before so the child realizes there is certainty in it," Fred notes.

R is for Reassure

According to Laurie, one of the best things parents can do for a child who is concerned about external violence is simply reassure them that the grownups are doing their best to keep them safe.

Don't make guarantees, but remind them that there are more good people in the world than bad.

L is for Listen

“Just let your kids talk," says Laurie. Take some mental notes while they go on. The things they keep repeating are the issues they're confused about and that you can clarify later. Be mindful of the areas that they're avoiding too, because maybe you need to fill in an important detail that they've totally missed.

S is for Safeguard

If your child is worried that similar events will take place in your community, take a moment to talk about all the things grownups are doing to prevent that from happening. Make sure we're reminding the children of all the safeguards in place to protect them," says Laurie.

Unfortunately, we can't guarantee this is going to end peacefully or quickly. But we can guarantee our children that we will always be there to listen to them, and hug them tight.

[A version of this post was published February 6, 2018. It has been updated.]l

In This Article