How can parents, caregivers and educators talk with children about racial turmoil and recent news events in the U.S.? Several Mayo Clinic experts say the best approach is proactive and direct.
“I would recommend asking questions to see what your children have picked up, what they understand about the issues, how they’re feeling about it and find out what ‘holes’ they might have in their knowledge,” says psychologist Dr. Jocelyn Lebow. “This will help you frame your response — and their level of understanding might surprise you.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Sheila Jowsey-Gregoire agrees. “It’s important to let children talk about their concerns,” she says. “Be a supportive listener and depending on the age of the child, offer suggestions and positive insights.”
“I also would be careful about talking around the issue,” says Dr. Lebow. “Naming things and speaking directly about what’s going on, in an age-appropriate way, is going to be more beneficial than hedging or avoiding. It can help to have a conversation about how they might confront or respond to related situations in their everyday life, such as racism, bullying or violence, in a way that’s consistent with the person they want to be.”
“I also would be careful about talking around the issue. Naming things and speaking directly about what’s going on, in an age-appropriate way, is going to be more beneficial than hedging or avoiding.” – Dr. Jocelyn Lebow
Dr. Amit Sood, director of research in the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, says, “Help them understand that most people are good, and emphasize it’s a few misguided people who can spoil things.”
He acknowledges, “Some news channels might only show the bad stuff, but a lot of good things are happening that are going unseen, and those people causing pain to others can teach you what not to do. When you see chaos in the larger world, create positivity in your smaller world.”
Dr. Lebow says you know what your child can handle, and it’s healthy for them to see you responding as a human to tragedy. For example, she says let your child know that, “seeing people say cruel and hateful things makes me feel really sad” can help normalize emotional responses he or she might be having.