Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Author: April Duncan, MSW, LCSW, Registered Play Therapist
As a child therapist, I deal with the side many people don’t consider; the psychological impact repeated police shootings have on children of color. Each time another Black person is murdered in an officer-involved incident, my inbox starts buzzing from caregivers asking how to talk to their children about what they’re seeing through various forms of media. They know how to state the facts but struggle with supporting the emotions that come from these hardened truths.
For the children, they are left trying to process living in a world that sees them as older, more aggressive and more promiscuous then their White peers. They know the names; Emmitt Till. Mike Brown. Tamir Rice. But they often don't know how to process the emotions of confusion, anger and sadness that consume them while processing this reality.
These are some tips that have been helpful in my work with children of color during these times:
Tip #1: If you haven’t already, explain to them the history of how Black people have been treated in the United States, beyond slavery. I recommend the book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” by Dr. Joy DeGruy for your personal reading. This is a good guide for learning about the trauma endured in our community and you can share that with your child. If they are older, have them read the book. Be sure to check out tip #4 for more suggested readings for kids of all ages.
Tip #2: “The Talk”- this is the conversation given by caregivers of Black children to educate them on how to interact with police officers.This can be controversial because it's often perceived as being anti-police. My endorsement of "The Talk" isn't to demonize police, but to support the facts: Black men and boys are 2.5 times more likely to die in an encounter with the police and Black women are 1.4 times more likely die in these encounters compared to their White counterparts. Read this LA Times article for more information on these statistics: https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men. If you're unsure what to say, you can use a video clip like this one: Black parents explain how to deal with the police: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coryt8IZ-DE
Tip #3: The most important thing you can do following Tip #1 and #2 is provide a space for your child to process how she or he feels during and after any conversation around "The Talk", police brutality and protests. Acknowledge their feelings but also share your feelings so they know they aren’t alone.
Here are some fun ways to connect with your children and provide a space for them to process confusing and angry emotions:
A. Feelings check in: Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) have free resources for downloads. Use these resources to “check in” with your child daily and provide a space for them to process the different emotions that they may experience during the unrest. Here is one from TPT that includes coping skills for each set of feelings: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Free-Social-Emotional-Learning-Poster-Feelings-Check-In-Coping-Tools-5219460
B. Limit their social media intake. A study recently conducted at Washington University explores the potential traumatic effects on Black males as a result of repeated exposure to community violence via social media. Check out the article here: https://csd.wustl.edu/violent-videos/
C. Co-journaling: Grab a notebook for you and your child to write down how you’re feeling about “The Talk”, the protests, footage they are seeing or anything they need to talk about. This helps keep the line of communication between you and your child open and allows a safe place for them to process their emotions. You can also make it a fun art activity and decorate/collage your notebook with positive Black leaders and/or quotes.
D. Special time: This idea comes from an attachment-based therapeutic intervention called Parent Child Interaction Therapy. Take five minutes each day to spend time with your child doing an activity they like (try to avoid electronic-based activities if possible). Studies have shown that a child only needs five minutes of individual attention a day to feel a secure attachment. During these times, kids need to know they are loved and supported, and Special Time is a perfect way to achieve that goal while having fun. It can be something as simple as a 5 minute dance party! #quarantineturnup
Tip #4: Use books to help your children process race relations in America while also empowering them to find their voice in the fight. You can refer to the We Read Too App (https://wereadtoo.launchaco.com/) for suggestions. Here are some examples to consider:
A. Books for younger children
a. Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside by Kenneth Brawell
b. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
c. Little Leaders: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
d. One Love by Cedella Marley
e. Queen Like Me: The True Story of Girls Who Changed the World by Dr. Kimberly Brown
f. Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
B. Books for adolescents
a. Linda Brown, You Are Not Alone: The Brown V. Board of Education Decision by Joyce Carol Thomas
b. The Long Ride by Marina Budhos
c. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mariama J. Lockington
d. Diversify Us by Melicia Niccole
e. Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj
C. Books for teens/young adults
a. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
b. Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker
c. How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
d. Just like a Caucasian by Odera O’Gonuwe
e. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
f. Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson
g. X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz
Tip #5: Practice self-care for yourself and your child. You cannot avoid the coverage or the emotions that accompany viewing our people being killed on a regular basis. Make a list of coping skills for yourself and your child that can be used to manage anxious and worried feelings during these times. Here are some links of lists that you can use as a reference:
Our next blog will highlight self-care tips and activities you can do as a family to manage your mental health during these difficult times.
I know it can be frustrating and overwhelming as a caregiver to know you may not be able to protect your child at all times. Your emotional safety is just as important, so you can model positive coping and feelings expression for your children. So, I encourage you to join in on the conversation, the feelings identification and coping skills exploration with your children. Emotional safety is the best gift you can give them in a time where you may feel helpless.
Sending an abundance of virtual peace and love to you all during these difficult times.