When momentum-shifting events occur in this country, such as the likes of the volatile situation in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s important to recognize that this news is almost impossible to avoid. We should not be naive to think that children, whether they are watching or not, will undoubtably come across it on various TV channels, on their computers, tablets, on public streets and newspapers. Thus, it’s important not to suppress a child’s curiousity about the subject, nor ignore the subject when kids are aware that it is happening. As kids begin to head back to school, they will be looking for a sense of direction on these issues both at home and at school, and maybe relying on their teachers to help them understand current events. That said, here are some tips and advice in addressing issues such as the case in Ferguson involving violence, race and politics.
Open Up Communication on the Topic Get ahead of the issue by bringing up at home or in the classroom so the children know right away you are not tip toeing around the event. Ask them what they know or what they have heard about the situation in Ferguson. Make sure they understand it’s ok to express what they are feeling about it and what they are thinking. Considering the heated talk about race, police brutality, riots and politics, it is better to allow children an outlet to say what is on their mind than letting them simply internalize the moment.
Clarify the Situation There is a good chance that children won’t fully understand a situation like the Michael Brown case in Ferguson and the rioting they have been witnessing streamed on loop on various TV networks. They may, for example, misinterpret the risk the situation has of affecting their own family and community, while most of the violence has been isolated to the St. Louis region. You can reassure kids by clarifying the gravity of the situation, the imminent (or lack of) danger and asking them what they think they are seeing on TV or in the news. It’s better to help children clarify then wrongly assume you know what they are thinking.
Educate Yourself and Plan Ahead
Children can experience a multitude of reactions to traumatic events. As a parent/educator, consider it a part of your job to research and learn reactions children might exhibit after witnessing the street violence and protests the past few weeks. Do your homework and find the resources in your community that can help you gain information on managing the reactions of children to these types of events. Knowing ahead of time who you can go to and where you can access help for the children will make it much easier to give your community’s youth the proper guidance.
Again, think ahead and know your own personal plans in addition to your local school and community’s plan in case of dealing with impactful, possibly traumatic events. While we can’t control what is broadcasted on television or how far reaching these events affect children and adults alike, being ready gives us some semblance of control that consequently gives children some sense of security. Don’t be afraid to revisit topics long after events like the Michael Brown case have passed.
I remember distinctly the ramifications of the 9/11 attack growing up, and how teachers, even a year or more later would gather us in small groups to reflect and discuss how we felt about the attack then, how we felt about it with the passing of time and if anything had changed. While it may have seemed unnecessary to some, looking back I’m happy we were given those opportunities to speak our minds in a comfortable setting with friends and teachers we knew had a vested interested in our well being. We don’t ever know for sure when these kinds of events will pop up, but we can be prepared ahead of time to foster communication and knowledgeable support for our children and students in our local community.