As our country mourns the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans we wrestle with complex issues like racism and social injustice. Many parents are facing difficult questions from their kids and trying to figure out the best way to help them deal with everything going on in the world. A global pandemic, economic difficulties, and now unrest in cities throughout the country are all contributing to the stress and anxiety that so many Americans are feeling. Conversations about racism and violence have become an even bigger part of our conversation both in the public and in our homes.
It’s important to keep in mind that our kids are watching and listening, whether we want them to or not. As even adults struggle with their own emotions during such a difficult time, our children may be left feeling scared, confused, or even angry.
Conversations with our children about racism and violence are tough but necessary. So, how are parents supposed to help their kids understand what is going on and make sense of it when sometimes it barely makes sense to them?
Here are some things to keep in mind when talking to your kids about these difficult subjects.
Don’t shield them, but don’t over-share
This balance is difficult in the best of times. Figuring out how much information they need to know about a subject can be tricky. It’s even more complicated by the fact that every kid is different.
Listen to them without judging
A great jumping-off point is to ask your child how they are feeling about everything going on. This will not only give you insight into how they’re feeling but it also helps you to understand how much awareness they have about what is going on. Listen attentively and let them share freely. Make sure they feel heard and not judged for their thoughts and feelings.
Be clear and to the point
When you start discussing topics like racism and violence it is important for parents to be clear and stick to the point they are making. The more factual information you can present the better. Steer clear of tangents that go off-topic and potentially confuse kids.
Share your feelings
While presenting facts is a great start it is okay to share your feelings and emotions about the situation. Just be careful not to overwhelm kids with strong emotions. You paint a powerful picture for your children so think about what message you want them to receive.
Let them ask questions
Once you have spent some time talking, give your kids an opportunity to ask questions. Be sure to let them know that no question is too big or small and they can ask anything. Creating an open environment where kids feel like they can ask anything can keep your kids from turning to unreliable sources.
Support their feelings
Think about ways you can help support their feelings about racism and violence during the initial conversation and beyond. Perhaps your child’s thoughts on these sensitive topics don’t match yours. This is okay. Your job is to support them, not try to change their thought process.
Keep the conversation going
Probably the most important thing you can do is keep the conversation going. Every family’s conversation will look a little different. This is to be expected. As long as you keep the door open and keep talking you will provide your teen with a safe space to talk and ask questions.