When children and youth see violence, riots, unrest and confusing images on social media or television news, they can feel confused, afraid, anxious and angry.

A social work researcher on child welfare and trauma at Indiana University, Barbara Pierce provides the following tips to parents or caregivers struggling with how to talk to children and youth about Wednesday’s chaotic events that at the U.S. Capital: 

  • Consider age and developmental level when you respond. Young children especially may be afraid for their own safety. Reassure them that you have a plan to keep them safe. Extra cuddles and play can help, too.
  • Validate feelings. Say: "I hear you saying that you feel scared. It is a very scary image on the news. Do you want to talk about it?"
  • Maintain routines as routines help children to feel safe.
  • Limit media and news as much as you can, but watch the media or news with them if necessary and check their assumptions of what they think is happening. Follow up with the facts in a matter-of-fact manner.
  • Many children are equating what happened at the US Capitol with their experiences of “lockdown” drills at school. Reinforce that the safety measures put into place for our legislators worked. Help them to understand why they practice these measures.
  • Use the opportunity to point out wrong actions rather than bad people. This helps to model the idea that our behavior matters.
  • Point out the helpers in the situation. 
  • Model and discuss compassion and kindness for those in need.
  • Educate older children and youth by answering their questions openly and honestly. Use these moments to educate them about the difference between rioters and protestors. Discuss basic Civics and principles of democracy. Teach children and youth about the job of our leaders.
  • Point out evidence of resilience. For example, after the U.S. Capitol was secured, the legislators went right back to work doing their job. Point out the words of outrage or thanks to those who helped them but then they went back to work.
  • Use the event as an opportunity to answer questions about equity and the differences older youth and teens might see regarding differential treatment based on race and diversity.
  • Exercise faith traditions through prayer, scripture or other sacred readings aimed at comfort and loving kindness and your family values.

Pierce is also an expert on trauma education, secondary trauma in professionals, child welfare workforce and related issues, teaching and learning, and rural social work. She teaches graduate courses in child welfare and trauma, community engaged participatory action research, and social theory at the IU School of Social Work, and is the primary investigator on multiple trauma- and child welfare-related grants.