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Race, Protests, Police, and Rights: How to Talk to Kids

black lives matter

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the world found another major thing to talk about: race relations and police actions in the United States. While this sort of news is challenging for adults to process, children can have big questions that need careful answering. These top tips from a Littleton child psychologist can help you to have a big, difficult conversation with your child about vital current events.

Avoid “All or Nothing” Thinking

Human beings naturally make generalizations, and this is even more true in children who are trying to form an understanding of the world. As an adult, your job is to guide your child into considering other viewpoints. For example, a child might ask “are all police bad?” or “aren’t all criminals bad?” Make sure to emphasize that all people, no matter what race, age, or occupation, can be good or bad. There are corrupt police officers who make bad decisions, and there are citizens who break the law. On the other hand, there are also accused criminals who have done nothing wrong, and amazing police offers who keep people safe.

Address Systems

For younger children, stick with general rules about treating everyone fairly and being respectful. For older children, you can start talking about systems. While most fifth graders will struggle with concepts of systemic bias and institutional racism, they understand systems concepts such as tradition, habits, and patterns. Have a conversation with your child and see how he understands race in America, what her experiences are with police, or what they would do if they felt their rights were being violated. Have they ever done anything that would get them “canceled ” in today’s media playground? Can they make up for those mistakes? Have your child consider how these experiences would be different if their skin were lighter or darker. Remember, there are no right or easy answers!

Staying Safe

Many older children and teens are participating in protests, and those who aren’t are often watching them on TV and social media. How do you keep them feeling safe and secure during a pandemic  and riots? As a parent, you are probably already addressing the physical needs—keeping them in safe areas, loading them up with masks, and limiting screen time. For parents with children of color, you might share your own experiences and best advice for managing racial tension and dealing with police. Many children have additional questions about violent protests, riots, and vandalism, or find themselves frightened or anxious after witnessing these events. Help your child by placing the events in context, such as encouraging your child to consider the tradeoffs of property destruction versus drawing attention to lives being lost. If your child seems excessively upset after witnessing or participating in protest events, don’t hesitate to contact a teenage psychologist in Littleton to work through the issues.

Today’s children are facing very high demands, and they need strong adults to support them through these challenging times! Get additional advice and support in Highlands Ranch and call a skilled child psychologist today to set up an in-office appointment or telehealth child therapy appointment. With evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma-informed treatment, play therapy, and animal-assisted therapy, your child will feel strong and able to manage these challenges!


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