Ruchi Kaushik, MD, MPH, Medical Director, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Complex Care Clinic; Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine
Are your children oblivious to what is happening in our world today? The peaceful protesting of the deadly interactions between law enforcement and persons of color is an historic moment in our country. Undoubtedly, whether you have talked about it at home or not, if they have access to an electronic device, your children know what’s happening. As a parent, it’s important for you to frame current events with the values you want to instill. You must remember that you will always be their favored and most trusted source.
Raising three little girls is no easy task, and I spend countless hours preparing them for issues that may arise in their worlds. I recently stopped at the grocery store and asked my two older daughters to run in quickly and grab a few things. My teen turned to my pre-teen and said, “We have to be on our best behavior and not call attention to ourselves. Don’t ever forget that we are brown.” We have talked about race in our home before, but apparently it was time to hold another family meeting.
How you approach the issue will differ according to your child’s age and to whether your family is white or made up of people of color.
- Secure your own oxygen mask before securing your child’s: Are you OK? How are you coping? Take a moment to care for yourself. Your child will remember your reaction and emotions far more than your words. I, personally, found it very painful to watch the video of George Floyd’s death and reached out to pediatrician friends who reminded me of the good work we do to advocate for children and that hope is not lost.
- Check-in with your children: It might be helpful to learn what your child already knows and how they feel about it. Be an active listener and validate their emotions. It is absolutely okay and correct to state out loud that racism is real and the pain that people feel from being mistreated because of their race is real. This conversation will likely be more detailed with older children.
- Emphasize safety and security: Remind your children they will be OK. With the country’s reaction so visible, children will be most concerned with what will happen to their world. Feeling safe in their home is particularly important for younger children.
- Take a news break: Young children will benefit from a break from current events. Spending quality time together as a family will provide reassurance and security. When you are watching, be sure to watch together and discuss what you see with your child. Be sure to avoid graphic images and sounds. Older children and teens will need help understanding what is true and what is not on the internet and in social media.
- Listen, ask and answer questions, and teach empathy: When you ask open-ended questions and actively listen and validate their answers, you are role modeling this behavior for your children. Every child’s experiences will be different, but teaching them to be open to others’ perspectives encourages empathy. Explain to your child that just because she hasn’t experienced discrimination doesn’t mean that other children haven’t or that it is not real. A willingness to listen to others and attempt to feel their pain brings us closer as a community and allows us to heal together.
- Know the Signs: Children don’t often come out and tell you that they are having difficulty coping with a tragedy. Rather, they often have difficulty with sleep, problems in behavior, vague physical symptoms such as headaches, changes in appetite, or emotional problems such as depression or anxiety. Be sure to keep an eye out for these issues and bring them up to your pediatrician or a mental health professional if you have noticed them in your child.
For more information, age-appropriate recommendations, and resources, visit this HealthyChildren.org article written by national American Academy of Pediatrics experts Drs. Nia Heard-Garris and Jacqueline Douge. Dr. Heard-Garris recently participated in the CNN/Sesame Street Racism Town Hall.
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