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Talking to children about racism, social justice, George Floyd

Here are some tools and tips to help kids process what they're seeing and hearing in the world today.

This is a challenging time to be a child. First there was the coronavirus pandemic, and then came the killing of George Floyd... which was followed by protests and acts of violence around the country. These events can be hard for adults to process and for children, it's even more difficult.

Dr. Meghan Miller, a psychologist with Allina Health, shares how to have a conversation with your children about what's going on.

Q: If our kids aren’t bringing up the issue, should we?

  • You know, at this point, there has just been so much that has happened in the first half of the year that it is almost a certainty that something has changed in every child’s life that they’ve noticed. Whether that be school being moved to home, seeing protests, restaurants closing, recreational activities being cancelled…or the like - If your child isn’t quick to talk about these things or ask questions, I wouldn’t be alarmed necessarily, though I do think it would more than appropriate to ask an open-ended question such as “there has been a lot going on this year, how are you feeling about all this?”

Q: How do we answer their questions if we don’t even know what to think ourselves?

  • A skill I recommend so often to parents is gaining comfort with saying “I don’t know” to kids. As parents we often pressure ourselves to have all the answers, and yet, there are many times when we don’t have the answers. I think it is great for kids to see their parents comfortably say, I don’t know. With that said, whether or not we know the factual reason for some of the things going on in our world right now, we can be in touch with how we feel about it – in these moments with kids I think it is wonderful if parents can share how they are feeling and then inquire about how their kids are feeling too.

Q. What can we do to help children who are deeply impacted by these events?

  • We can open the conversation for them so they don’t have to. We can validate their experiences. We can listen. Never underestimate the value of listening.
  • We can also create opportunity…whether that be opportunity to talk (family dinners or family walks are great for this) or opportunities to get involved like assisting in the clean up or helping make the grocery list to donate food for those in need)….kids often want to take action as well and need guidance on when and how to do that.
  • The other important thing is to ensure that everyone in the family is taking some space from the heavy issues that have confronted us all in 2020. Try to keep some elements of your routine for your kids so things feel somewhat familiar to them in the midst of so much change and uncertainty. And don’t forget to find joy in the day, share gratitude with one another and really support each other.

Q. What are three things parents should keep in mind as they prepare to talk to their children?

  • Listen. And I mean really listen. Resist the urge to insert the life lesson and just wait till they are done sharing.
  • Validate their feelings. Help them see that the way their feeling, whatever it might be, makes sense. If their feeling something you think might not be adaptive (i.e. aggressive) help them with some calming techniques and try to refocus and help them identify some action steps (write a letter to their local official, make a donation, send thank you pictures to nurses, elders, doctors)
  • Be honest. Although these are very difficult concepts to teach children, we need to give honest answers to their honest questions. I encourage all parents to research tools to help them….books, videos, websites…there is so much out there that can assist in finding the developmentally appropriate way to educate your children and there is no reason not to lean on those tools.

For more resources, visit www.allinahealth.org/healthysetgo.

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