The news this week has unsettled my heart. I find the violence, fear, and anger of our world overwhelming at times. I sometimes have to stop listening or it eats at my soul and immobilizes me. It seems every week or month the news if filled with another black man or woman who has been killed unjustly. The people who are hired to “protect and defend” us are often the person doing the killing. Our leaders lash out, calling names, and forgetting about compassion and understanding.
As an adult, I realize that not all police react with anger. I also know that only death brings the news and that for every person of color killed, many more were treated similarly. I know that some of our politicians are as aghast as I am. Still, change can mean a loss of power and that keeps things from being fixed.
It is hard to see what happens and not fume, judge the participants, or question the role others play to exacerbate the situation. Why didn’t the other officers stop the violence? How can you just stand there and film on your phone? What is the point of looting afterwards? All these thoughts pop into my head. I know there is more to it, that we have broken societies agreement, but I shake my head in confusion.
If I, a white woman sitting in a sunny apartment and generally feeling safe in my world, feels fear, anger, and overwhelming frustration at my inability to fix the world – then how does a child feel? I have over sixty years of life experience. I recognize that my own behavior matters, but often only in small ways. A child doesn’t have that range of knowledge yet.
Here are some ways to talk to your child and help them navigate news.
1. Pay attention to the news running in your house. Try not to let it be the background noise. If it is on and your child is around, be prepared to comment calmly on what is happening. If it is violent, turn it off and watch it when your child isn’t in the room. As a teacher, I had a lot of conversations with second graders about disturbing news stories. You may think it doesn’t bother them, but it often does.
As your child gets older, they will encounter the news on their own. Think about how you want to discuss the top news story with your child. You might even choose to bring up bigger topics, so they can hear your thoughts on it, rather than just let them listen to the bend of the media they heard it on. Your opinion matters to your child.
2. Be honest about how the news makes you feel. It is important for your child to know that you worry, get angry or frightened, or sad. All emotions are okay. How you deal with the emotion is what counts. By validating your own feelings and your response to them, you model the behavior you want them to have.
3. Listen to their worries and concerns about what they are hearing on the news. Don’t jump in and override them with your opinions. Also, by glossing over some issue of concern, you can give the impression that you aren’t telling them the whole story- letting them believe you are hiding something even worse. Sometimes, they are simply confused about what happened. Listen and empathize with their emotions. Answer what questions you can honestly. This isn’t the time for lectures.
4. When a child encounters someone they value with different opinions that those you are emphasizing, it can be unsettling for them. Explain that you can love someone and not agree with them on everything. Be clear on your expectations for your child without judging the loved one. If you need to, discuss ways you can respectfully tell someone that you don’t agree with them.
5. Select books and movies with diverse characters. Besides race, religion and gender identity should be included. If you encounter racism or bias in a story, be certain to discuss it and not ignore it. The running dialogue makes a difference to how they view the world. A comment on the way Disney princesses aren’t shaped like real women or the way Laura Ingalls Wilder talks negatively about Native Americans helps your child reflect on what they are being exposed to.
6. Create a plan of action. Discuss with your child ways to learn more about an issue and to respond to it. Help your child move from just “talking the talk” to “walking the walk.” Let your child help you decide where to make a family contribution to an organization that fights discrimination. Help your child write a letter to your representatives about their concerns. Participate as a family in fundraisers, walks, and events to promote awareness of your child’s viewpoint.
7. Admit to your own mistakes. Recently, I shared something on Facebook that referred to a behavior as “ghetto.” A friend called me out on it. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t even noticed it. Being honest that we are not perfect, and make errors in what we say and do, allows your child to see that we are all still learning to be better human beings.
8. Talk about your blessings. Maybe this seems shallow but in my darkest days after Mark died, I found that being grateful for the 17 lasagnas we received, the phone calls from people I hadn't talked to in years, for a roof over my head, gave me hope that I could live through this crisis. It didn't stop the heartbreak. It was the sugar in my bitter. Even being grateful for the lessons it taught valid.
I know I still have a lot to learn. I still can do better. There are issues I just don’t understand, or that I don’t want to face head on. I still have to practice being non-judgmental. Every single week, my eyes are opened to new knowledge of human behavior. If I have learned anything, it is that I don’t know the whole story. What I do know is that when someone says, “Stop” it means you need to stop, and that you need to rethink how you respond to them.
As my darling daughter used to say, “Everything has two sides. Even a pancake.”
All my love,
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