10 Resources to Help Kids Understand and Cope with the Riots at the Capitol

The time is now to create a better world for our children

On the wall of my son’s old bedroom, there is a photograph of his 8th-grade class posing in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC. The dozens of smiling, proud faces, captured in front of this celebrated national symbol, are full of hope and enthusiasm. Thirteen years later, this optimistic and joyful photo is painful to look at, as those very same children, now young adults, have just witnessed a most disturbing and frightening event, an attack on this iconic representation of American democracy.

The violent assault on our nation’s capital on January 6th has shocked and angered us and has left us with so many questions. How could this have been allowed to happen? Will there be repercussions for those who took part in the riot, or for those who encouraged it to take place? Why weren’t these rioters met with the force displayed at the Black Lives Matter protests just months ago? And, how can there be so much anger and hatred for those elected officials enacting one of the most important rituals of our democracy, the certification of the presidential election? 

These and other questions may or may not be answered in the coming weeks and months, but for now, we must pause to make sure we are taking care of ourselves, our friends, colleagues, and family, and, most importantly, our children. 

In times like these, young children look to us for guidance and to help them understand such troubling events. Our youngest children, too young to grasp what is going on, pick up on the anxiety of the adults around them and need us to reassure them that they are safe and protected. Our older children need us to provide support and space for them to ask questions and share their feelings. It can be daunting to talk with your young children about civil unrest, racial injustice, and violence, but you don’t have to go it alone!

At Boston Children’s Museum, our caring staff members are dedicated to supporting you in your childrearing journey. They have compiled a list of resources from organizations doing excellent work to guide parents, caregivers, educators, and children through this difficult time. We have also included resources that will help you connect with your child through play, one of the very best ways to comfort and support your child. 

We hope the list below will be useful to you and your family as you navigate these challenging conversations and discuss with your child how we can all work towards a more just and equitable world. Let me leave you with the beautiful words written by one of our staff members in a letter to his three young nephews following the events of this week:

“My biggest wish today is that you will be defined by moments of hope and not moments of hatred, that the hearts of your generation will be filled only with love and tolerance, my wish is that your generation will manage to create the better world that I know this can be.”

Resources compiled by staff at Boston Children’s Museum

1.     Child Mind Institute: Helping Kids Understand the Riots at the Capitol

 This article from the Child Mind Institute recognizes that right now, our kids need trusted adults to help guide them through their feelings and answer their questions about what they have heard and seen on the news about the riots. Even younger children who aren’t old enough to understand the events at the Capitol can still be affected by adults’ anxiety. Gain easily implementable strategies for navigating conversations with your children in a healthy, productive way. 

2.     WGCU: Tips on Talking to Children About Civil Unrest

Civil unrest may not be something you expected to have to discuss with your young children, but with media so easily accessible, our children have likely been exposed to more unsettling news than ever before. In this article from WGCU, counseling expert Andrea Perdomo offers strategies for parents to talk to their children about protests and civil unrest around the country. 

3.     LAist: How to Process a Scary Day for the Nation’s Kids

To clinical psychologist Thea Monyeé, young children + the news = a recipe for stress. In this piece from LAist, Monyeé provides tips for staying informed while making sure your kids are not negatively impacted by media content that they may not understand. She also provides ways to help young children put their emotions into words and ensure that that they feel safe and protected in a time of national unrest. 

4.     CNN Health: How to Talk to Kids About the Election

The issue at the heart of last week’s riots was the presidential election, a topic that has been on American’s minds for many months. As media becomes more and more widely accessible, politics are difficult for children to avoid. We all see the way the lives been directly impacted by decisions made in government and this can raise many questions and feelings in children. This article from CNN Health will help you navigate these conversations. 

5.    Children’s Mental Health Campaign: How do I talk to young children about the racial injustices happening right now?

Race, racism, and racial injustice are big topics and ones that may seem daunting to broach with children, but racism has played a major part in recent national events, such as the riots at the Capital this week. There are plenty of helpful articles and children’s books out there to guide you through these discussions with young children. We recommend this resource from the Children’s Mental Health Campaign. 

6.    Open-Ended Play

Open-ended play is an extremely valuable way for children to work through emotions, stress, and trauma. It’s the way that kids make sense of the world around them. You don’t have to do anything special, just give them time and space to play in the ways they need. Making time for play is essential—now and always!

Boston Children’s Museum staff members have created an extensive library of children’s activities, many of which encourage open-ended play. We invite you to take a look and engage your kids with these activities.

7. Self-Expression and Healthy Coping 

Some staff-created activities in our library are aimed at promoting healthy coping mechanisms and self-expression during stressful times, which may be extra relevant right now: 

1.     Feelings Yoga

Yoga is an excellent way to explore our feelings in times when we are unable to find the right words to make them known. Try out this fun Feelings Yoga activity with your kids—it may benefit you, too, as we are all dealing with complicated emotions right now. Try it here.

2.     Make a DIY Pinwheel to Encourage Deep Breathing

Deep breaths are a good strategy to help de-stress, but for kids, this might seem a little boring. By creating their own DIY pinwheel, kids will be encouraged to take deep breaths in a way that is fun for them. Try it here.

3.     Practice Mindful Observation  

Mindful observation is a healthy way to slow down and de-stress just by listening to your senses and noticing your surroundings. In this video, kids and parents can learn how to practice mindful observation anywhere. Watch it here.

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