Recent demonstrations and protests have occurred because of a long history of police brutality against people of color and has raised many concerns with parents about how to address the serious issues of racism and prejudice in America today. It is important and necessary to create a safe space for you and your child to share feelings and discuss these issues based on their age, temperament, and your family values:
Explore ways to process and address your feelings surrounding these issues within yourself so that you are better able to discuss these events with your child. Some examples include: self-education on the deeply rooted issues that led to these events; self-care such as meditation, breathing techniques, and taking breaks from social media; journaling your feelings and thoughts; or calling the California Parent & Youth Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 for free emotional support as well as guidance for talking to your children.
Talk about racism and prejudice. Racism and violence are topics that parents and caregivers are sometimes hesitant to address. Children and youth can come to harmful conclusions about race when it is not discussed openly. Having these difficult discussions with your children is the first step towards processing collective trauma and explaining the events surrounding the murders of George Floyd and countless other black people in ways that your children can understand and empathize with. There are many children’s books and resources available on the topic that you can read with them.
Be calm and factual, create a safe space to express your emotions as a parent in order to model how your children can express their feelings. Help them process information by talking to them calmly, honestly and in a way they will understand. At the same time, it’s important that we express our emotions in healthy ways, especially when the subject is so important. Let them know that you’re sad or angry and acknowledge that it’s good to be upset by injustice, as long as it doesn’t stop you from fighting for change.
Talk to them about ways that they can take action and make a difference. Discuss ways that they can personally fight against racism, prejudice, and discrimination, such as stepping in, in a calm and peaceful way when you see an injustice occur or joining peaceful protests to fight against systemic racism. Talk with your child about positive ways to address hateful or racist comments and jokes made in their presence. For example, “I am offended by your comments” or “this is making me uncomfortable”, before walking away. Validate their feelings and do your best to acknowledge any fears, anger or other uncomfortable emotions that may arise.
Children may be overhearing adult conversations, watching videos on social media platforms, or witnessing news coverage of violent protests. Your child might fear for the safety of themselves, family, friends, or other community members. This will look different for every child. If you, your children or someone you know needs emotional support, we encourage you to call the National Parent Helpline® at 855-4A-PARENT.
Different developmental stages require different approaches; here are some examples for each:
Early childhood: Details are not necessary. Explore these issues creatively with age appropriate books, crayons and markers with multi-ethnic skin colors, and space to explore and express their feelings.
Middle childhood: Children at this stage will have greater awareness of what’s going on, though they may not be sure why. Be straightforward with your answers, they will get it. They may relate more than you think, as you can already hear their many complaints of life being unfair. They can also understand privilege. Help them learn how to use it to show love and take a stand.
Adolescence: Encourage your adolescents to talk through their feelings with you. They will likely begin to form strong beliefs about social injustice – support their need for expression and desire for action in safe ways. Remind them that they matter, that their voices are important, and that they are never too young to make a difference.
Suggested parent conversation with a preschooler:
Parent: “This makes me feel so enraged. When I’m feeling this way, it makes me feel powerless, so I look for ways I can make change. How does all of this make you feel?”
Child: “I feel confused and a little bit sad, because I don’t like to see people being hurt.”
Parent: “This is a sad and confusing time, so it makes sense that you would feel sad and confused. That’s okay. How can we work together to make things better?”
Child: “Can I make a sign, like the people in the streets were holding?”
Parent: “That’s a great start. Let’s make a sign and put it in our window so that they will know they’re not alone.”
If you live in or are concerned about a Parent, Child, or Youth in California, call, text, chat or email the California Parent and Youth Helpline, operated by Parents Anonymous® Inc. Trained Helpline Counselors provide trauma-informed, Evidence-Based emotional support and resource referral, 7 days a week from 8:00AM-8:00PM PST.