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'Why is 2020 like this?': How you can talk to your children about race, protests, police brutality

Child psychologists say the best way to approach these topics is to let children lead the conversation and answer them with honesty.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis can be difficult for children to understand and may bring up various emotions like anxiety and fear.

Parents across the First Coast are now faced with the challenging task of talking to their children about racism, police brutality and violence.

Amy and Fabrice Lignabou were shocked to hear their 7-year-old daughter say to her cousin last week: "Police kill people that look like [my] dad and brother.”

As a bi-racial family, they had discussions about race and police brutality even before the recent protests. 

“Clearly she is seeing and hearing more than we realize," said Amy Lignabou.

Dr. Dawn Witherspoon, a child psychologist with the University of North Florida says before parents start a conversation, they should gauge their child's understanding of what he or she may have already seen or heard through friends, social media and TV.

For Megan Fitzgerald, she decided after the death of Ahmaud Arbery that it was time to finally talk to her 9-year-old son and prepare him for the discrimination he might face.

“It was a tough conversation," said Fitzgerald, whose son is bi-racial. "That one day, my child will have battles that I never had to face.”

Child psychologist Dr. Angela Mann, also with the University of North Florida, says as difficult as it may be, it’s best to be honest with kids about the protests and there are resources parents can use to help talk about racism.

With younger children, Mann suggests, “parents be brief but concrete, because that’s how their kids are going to be thinking about these events.”

For families like the Lignabous who have a 15-, 7- and 2-year-old, the conversations with their oldest daughter are a little different. 

Older kids may understand more about what’s going on and their place in society. That's why Mann suggests parents "can begin to have those more nuanced conversations with them.”

Both Fitzgerald and the Lignabous have also used historical documentaries and books as tools to help start a dialogue with their children. It's encouraged their children to lead conversations and ask questions.

Witherspoon says that what's equally as important as talking about race, equality and the protests is that all children, regardless of their skin color feel loved, valued and secure.

However, “for Black children, we’re also trying to promote a sense of pride in their culture, in their identity,” she added.

Though it can be hard as a parent to prepare for questions like Fitzgerald's son asked: “Why is 2020 like this?”

She and the Lignabous hope these conversations will inspire their children to be part of the change and encourage them to let their voices be heard.

Fitzgerald says having these conversations are important, not to expose the complicated factors behind the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but rather to discuss the diversity of the country.

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