Police in riot gear, burning buildings, smashed glass, screaming protesters—the scenes we’re seeing on the news right now from the protests that have rocked the country since the death of George Floyd can be seriously scary for little eyes.
But as tough as it can be to process, we can’t shy away from confronting what’s going on right now—because the next generation is watching how we’re responding.
While protests that devolved into riots dominate the news cycle, many of these events have remained peaceful. Children and families have even made up some of those marching in crowds. But if taking your kids to a protest doesn’t feel safe for you right now (we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, after all), talking about the reason for these demonstrations—the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of a police officer—is so important.
How to talk to your kids about protests + racism in America right now
When it comes to tackling any tough topic with your children, age-appropriate honesty is always going to be your best bet. “If we want to raise our children to be compassionate people who participate as responsible citizens in a democracy, we need to find ways to talk with them about the thorny issues that we struggle with as a country,” wrote Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting.
You don’t have to wait for your children to come to you with questions. It’s okay to be proactive, especially since it can be hard to monitor what images your child may have already come across on TV or online. “Initiating an age-appropriate conversation can give children a helpful frame for understanding difficult realities. If parents are silent, children will draw their own often faulty conclusions about what is happening and why,” explained psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum in USA Today.
Choose media wisely
While you’ll obviously want to avoid letting your child see anything traumatic (and unfortunately, it’s all too easy to find videos of black men and women dying at the hands of police), you can engage them over videos of the protests and help them process what they’re seeing, according to pediatrician and professor Dr. Jenny Radesky.
“Instead of focusing on questions the child may have about concrete things, ask them questions like ‘How do you think those people were feeling? Do you know why they were angry? What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?‘” she told CNN. With older children, you can also take the opportunity to give them an at-home lesson on America’s history and how protests have been instrumental in facilitating change.
Educate yourself, too
If you feel a bit out of your depth in discussions about racism, author and sociologist Margaret Hagerman suggests you start educating yourself. “You could do some work to learn the answers to these questions,” she told GMA. “You can take the time to read up on this and this could be something even that you do with your children.”
Whatever you do, just don’t stay silent—because black families in American don’t have that privilege.