Help Your Child Understand Ferguson (And Other Tragedies)

Help Your Child Understand Ferguson (And Other Tragedies)

I was six years old when the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a house in a residential neighborhood in the city. The house was inhabited by members of the group MOVE, a Black liberation organization founded by John Africa. There had been a lot of conflict between MOVE, the community, and the police for a few years. In May of 1985, the conflict escalated, and ended with a bombing and fire that killed 11 people (including children), and destroyed an entire neighborhood. I remember that night vividly. Older family members were watching the tragedy unfold live on TV, and I was right there taking it all in with them. Even though we were several miles away from the neighborhood that was under siege, my six-year-old brain just couldn’t comprehend that I wasn’t in danger. As I lay awake all night, listening to the faint sound of the news reports in the other room, I was terrified that our house was next to be bombed.

With all that’s happening in the world right now, with all that’s happening in our country, I can understand that many children are probably feeling the same way I felt that night nearly three decades ago. Overhearing words like “murder” and “shooting”, and the hearing folks speak angrily about police officers who we teach children to respect and rely on can be confusing and scary to young children. Why is Mommy crying? Why is Daddy yelling? Why is everyone so mad? What is going on? As parents, it’s our job to take care of our children, and helping them to understand what’s going on in the world around them is part of our duties. It’s not easy, but I have a few tips to help you out:

Be Gentle

Remember that your children are children. Don’t talk to them about what’s going on in the same way that you’d talk to one of your peers. Things are already scary enough. You’re horrified that an unarmed 18-year-old was gunned down in broad daylight? Imagine what your child is feeling. Wait until you’re calm to talk to your child, and be selective about the type of media you decide to share with them. Just like you wouldn’t let your six-year-old watch an R rated movie, be mindful of news programs and videos that you use to teach them about what’s going on.

Don’t Project

It might be tempting to launch into a lecture when you have to tell your son again to clean up his room. He won’t have the luxury of not following instructions in the street! If the police tell him to do something and he doesn’t listen right away, he could lose his life! Sadly, while that is a reality for many children in our country, your home is a safe zone. Certainly give him a time out for being hardheaded, but keep in mind that he’s still learning. Be loving. Firm, certainly, but loving, always.

Embrace Normalcy

It’s tough, I know, to go about life as if everything is normal when chaos is happening all around us. Your home, however, is one place in life where your child should always know that they’re safe. Unplug from the 24-hour news coverage to read a bedtime story, watch a movie, or play a game with your child. Continue following your established routines. Your child deserves having their childhood protected.

Keep The Conversation Going 

If your child asks a question, answer it honestly. Be gentle, of course, but don’t lie to them. Find a time to sit down and talk to them (preferably not at bedtime) about some of the things that are going on in the world, and let them know that you will help them figure anything out that they need to know. If you can, pray with them for the state of the world, for the victims, and for all that is going on in our country.

Have you talked to your child about any of the tragic events that have happened in the world lately? How’d it go? 

This post first appeared on Mama Knows It All on 8/15/14

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