How to talk to kids about protests and riots

Kids know something's going on out there, and you may need to answer a few of their questions

June 2, 2020
Multicultural kids hands

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For my son, it started a couple of years ago when his kindergarten teacher gave the class a simplified lesson about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

He came home with a lot of questions about the historic struggles of African American people. I could tell he was thinking hard to put that new information into the context of the black kids he knew and played with at school -- kids whose race he'd previously evaluated superficially -- "she has darker skin" -- and nothing beyond that. Now all of a sudden he was considering his friends with "darker skin" through a whole new lens, and he had a lot of questions about slavery, and Rosa Parks, and why someone would want to kill Dr. King.

We had a lot of conversations about all of it, and it was a challenge to explain how a lot of people had beliefs in the past that were totally racist and wrong, and on paper everybody's equal, but that's not actually how it works in the real world, even now, so many years later, in the 21st Century.

So when our kids get a glimpse of the George Floyd video, or see live coverage of protests and riots in the streets of Seattle, we have more explaining to do. 

I found a short, simple post over at RedTricycle called How to educate your children on riots & protests.

The bullet points include Be open & honest, Model it, Encourage activism, and Explain what protest means if developmentally appropriate for your child. They suggest that 7 years old is about the right age to get into that with a kiddo.

And in this particular situation, I found that as gruesome as it was, it was helpful to explain the event that ignited all of the current civil unrest -- the death of George Floyd, why it's sadly not the first time something like this has happened, why it's not acceptable, and why we white people can't just be silent when we see acts of racist behavior in our own lives -- we have to call it out and reevaluate our relationship with the people who are doing it.

Again, as the article says, "model it." I always say that the biggest lesson I've learned as a parent is that we may think we're teaching our kids when we consciously lecture them. But the things we say and the behavior we exhibit when we don't think they're paying attention is the stuff that really molds their character. (Excuse me if you're an experienced parent and you're saying, "Duh, John." I probably learned this a little more recently than you!)

Also, my son happens to be at a stage where he's fascinated by guns and the military, and games where stuff blows up, so I get the added benefit of being able to impart a lesson about how, unlike the fake violence in the Roblox games he plays, real violence has real life-and-death consequences.

Anyway. It's a quick read and a good guide. Good luck!


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