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Talking to Kids About the Violence at the U.S. Capitol

Use these age-based tips and questions to have conversations as a family about disturbing events.

The storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, was a shocking attack on an essential part of a democracy: the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. As Congress met to certify the 2020 electoral college vote, a protest outside the Capitol turned violent as the crowd unlawfully entered the building and temporarily disrupted the voting process.

While parents and caregivers continue to process these disturbing events, kids are also trying to make sense of what they're seeing and hearing. Kids are often more tuned into our emotions than we realize. If, as a parent, you're showing fear, anger, sadness, or frustration, explain to your kids that these emotions are normal and that they have nothing to do with anything they did.

For some adults and older kids, the images of the rioting crowd might trigger memories of past violent events in the U.S. or in other countries. For kids and families of color and of Jewish heritage, racist imagery -- like Confederate flags in the Capitol -- can be hurtful and disturbing. The differences between how pro-Trump protestors and how Black and Brown protestors are treated by police and described in the media can exacerbate feelings of inequality. It's important to acknowledge these triggers and give everyone the space they need to express their feelings.

You can use the following 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. You can also use this as a teachable moment to help older kids and teens develop critical-thinking and media literacy skills as they witness this historic moment.

Kids age 2–7

Young kids aren't yet fully able to understand complex situations. Kids at the younger end of this group still can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. If you can, try to turn off the news when young kids are around. Of course, they may still hear about scary news from their siblings or friends -- or overhear an adult talking about it. If they do, let them know that they and their family are safe, and use these questions to support them:

  • What did you watch/hear about what happened? (Ask follow-up questions without adding unnecessary information.)

  • How did that make you feel?

  • What would make you feel better?

Kids age 8–12

Older kids can have various reactions to what they see on the news and platforms where they spend lots of time, such as TikTok or Roblox. Some are more sensitive than others to news of violence. Think about how they've reacted in the past, and use these guiding questions to learn more about what questions they have and how they're feeling:

  • What did you watch/hear about what happened? (Ask follow-up questions, clarify misconceptions, and give them additional perspectives.)

  • How do you feel? How do you think your friends and other people in your family feel, including people from different backgrounds and races?

  • For more mature kids: What differences do you see in the way the media is talking about the situation compared to the Black Lives Matter protests? Do they use different words to refer to this event and the people involved?

  • What do you think about the lawmakers who came back and completed the job of certifying the election? What do their actions communicate?


Teens often feel passionately and have strong opinions about events in the news. Give them space to express how they feel without judgment. Since most teens get their news from social media, ask questions to help them think critically about what they're seeing and reading. Help them consider various perspectives and connect the dots with what they've learned in school. Older kids might be worried about the state of the country, events in their own town, or what might happen next -- especially since the news seems to deliver new developments every 30 seconds. Use these guiding questions to start the conversation:

  • What are you seeing on social media or the news about the events in the Capitol? How do you feel about what you see? Whose perspective is being featured? Whose voices are missing?

  • Which words are journalists or social media influencers using to talk about the situation or the people involved? Do you think they would use different words if the rioters were Black, Latinx, or Muslim?

  • How was the police response and the news coverage different from the Black Lives Matter protests?

  • Is this moment comparable to any other in U.S. history? (Use reliable sources to learn about past events. If your family has recently immigrated to the U.S., ask whether it compares with anything that's happened in your country of origin.)

  • How can society prevent violent attacks on democratic institutions? What specific actions can you take to have a positive impact on the future?

More resources for helping kids understand the news:

Diane Jones Lowrey
Diane works at Common Sense in the Family and Community Engagement Team and leads Community Partnerships. Common Sense is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. Prior to Common Sense, Diane had a career in marketing and communications building brands for global corporations. Diane’s community and volunteer service focus on the areas of equality, education, and the arts. She has served as a Trustee of the French American School in San Francisco and as a Board Member of Alonzo King Lines Ballet. Diane attended Mount Holyoke College and the University of Michigan Graduate School of Business Administration.
Diane lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter and enjoys traveling and exploring museums and music venues wherever she goes.