The Parish School Blog

How to Talk to Kids About Protests and Racism

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As protests and riots continue in the wake of George Floyd’s death, it’s likely that children will be impacted in some way by these events. They may witness an emotional response from those around them, overhear a conversation, view something on social media, have it brought up by peers, or see the distress in the faces of those they love. Some children may ask their parents specific questions, initiating a conversation that many may dread, find uncomfortable, want to avoid, or simply not know how to explain a topic so utterly complex.

However, these conversations are not to be avoided as not talking about upsetting events only fuels fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Having these conversations with a supportive adult, not only reduces fear, anxiety and uncertainty, but also begins a process of embracing differences and connecting through love, compassion and kindness.

Take Steps to Emotionally Regulate Yourself

When having conversations with your child about the protests and riots surrounding racism, it’s important to first assess your own beliefs, biases and emotional state, and take steps to emotionally regulate yourself. This does not mean to let go of any feelings of anger or fear. It simply means taking a deep breath or other act of calming to organize your beliefs and feelings. This allows you to think and respond to your child’s questions thoughtfully and in a manner that supports their sense of safety and security. Additionally, allowing a few moments to acknowledge your own distress or discomfort with this deep breath creates a space of safety for your child to emotionally co-regulate while you process any feelings or thoughts they may have.

Provide Age-Appropriate Information

Provide explanations that are developmentally age-appropriate and consistent.

For younger children, conversations about racism should be limited to basic facts about how people are treated differently due to the color of their skin, and the protests are allowing people are express how unfair this is.

For older children, you can further explain that the protests are taking place for people to express they want justice and change, and there are peaceful ways to do that. Use it as an opportunity to teach how to speak up and problem-solve resolutions when you have a conflict.

Be Open and Honest

Take ownership of your own feelings and feel comfortable sharing them with your child. For younger children, you can say, “I don’t like that people treat others unfairly (or hurt others) because of their different skin color. I feel sad/mad/scared/worried about that.”

Then, allow your child to share what they may already know about racial differences or differences in general. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers to their questions. Tell them that you don’t know but that you want to learn more. Let it be an opportunity to learn with your child.

Build Empathy and Perspective-Taking

  • Ask children 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?
  • For younger children, help them recognize what characters in books are feeling by identifying their facial expressions and body language. (Example: He looks sad. His mouth is down. His head is down. He did not like that.)
  • Help your child embrace differences in others by identifying differences among family members. (Example: My hair is curly. Your hair is straight. It is different. I love your hair and I love my hair.)
  • Encourage love and compassion. Identify an act of kindness to do for someone else.
  • Start a “Wish Well” ritual (a Conscious Discipline activity) in which you identify others that you want to send caring thoughts. Wish well to those who have been treated unfairly due to the color of their skin or other differences.

    To wish well:
    1. put your hands over your heart
    2. take a deep breath
    3. pause and picture something precious in your mind
    4. breathe out while opening your arms and send those precious, loving thoughts to the person you are wishing well

Increase the Child’s Sense of Safety

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings. “I wonder if this is upsetting or scary to hear. My job is to keep you safe. You can handle this. We can get through this together.”
  • Let your child know how you make it safe for them and others at home and in the community.
  • Talk about ways to cope when you witness social injustice or what a child can do to help make it safe.
  • Identify what people in the community are doing to make things better and to help others.

We encourage you to have conversations with children about these events but limit news and social media to times when children are not present. End your conversations with activities that provide a sense of connection and engagement.