- Talk about the incident with children/teens. While this is a difficult topic, this is an important time to share family values and model appropriate conversation around hard topics and feelings. Before sitting down with a child, it might be beneficial to talk with other adults to process what adults are hearing and to address a parent’s own reactions. With traditional and social media, teenagers likely have heard about the senseless death of George Floyd, and others before him, the peaceful protests and the rioting/looting. Provide a level of information and discussion that is appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
- What does the child already know? Ask the child what they’ve already heard about these events and aftermath. As children talk, listen for misinformation, and underlying fears or concerns. Understand that this information could change in the days ahead.
- For Preschool Children: Consider what they have seen or heard. Do not assume children do not sense a parent’s emotions or have not heard adult conversations. Be mindful of exposing them to adult conversations. As noted above, listen, clarify, and address misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears or concerns.
Take time to provide the correct information in language the children/teens can understand. Teens may also want to talk about situations where they have experienced or witnessed discrimination or hate.
Children may have some difficult questions about the recent events or similar experiences they may have had. For example, a child may ask if it is possible that an encounter with police will lead to death for them or their friends. Be open and honest in acknowledging any reasonable likelihood of this as a risk. However, they are also asking if they are safe. Therefore, this is a good time to review plans the family has of assuring safety in the event of any crisis situation. Include any information the parent may have on efforts being made to assure safety. Like adults, children/teens are better able to cope with a difficult situation if they feel they have the information they need to be safe.
Children/teens may have different reactions to these events. Problems with attention and concentration may arise. Increases in irritability and defiance may be present. Children and even teens may have more difficulty separating from parents, wanting to stay at home or with other caregivers. Worries and anxieties about what has happened, what is happening, what may happen in the future, and how this will affect their lives are common. As this event and other hate crimes are discussed across our country, children/teens who were not directly affected may have anxieties that “it could happen to me or my friend.” Sleep and appetite may also be affected. Support from the parents will help with feelings of safety and security.
Be mindful that children/teens are sensitive to the parent’s stress. Know that they also listen to adult conversations. Children may not understand all adult conversations and will fill in the blanks, many times with inaccurate information. While the recent events have raised concerns for adults, have discussions about feelings and thoughts with other adults out of the child’s or teen’s presence.
For preschool and elementary school-age children, there is truly no “good” amount. For older children and teens, they will likely have contact with traditional and social media. The younger the child, the less exposure to media there should be. Consider limiting the family’s exposure to media.
In times of stress, children/teens may have more trouble with their behavior, concentration, and attention. Even if they may not openly seek understanding or support, they will want this. With adolescents who are searching for an increased sense of independence, they may have trouble asking for support and help. Children/teens will need a little extra patience, care, and love.
- Should reactions continue or at any point interfere with children’s/teens’ abilities to function or if a parent is worried, contact local mental health professionals who have expertise in trauma. Contact the family’s physician, pediatrician, or state mental health associations for referrals to such experts.