Talking With Your Children About Ferguson and Mike Brown

While the world has watched the events in Ferguson unfold, one of the questions many parents are struggling with is, “How do I talk with my children about what happened in Ferguson?” During a conversation with Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, a professor of race relations and president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc., he offers the following tips for how to address the events of Ferguson and Mike Brown’s death.

Find the tools you need and lead the conversation.

Parents should begin the dialog and introduce the topic to their children. “The same way you’d take your children to a pediatrician, we need to talk with our children about the events,” says Lassiter. If you’re unsure of what to say, use Google to find resources that work for you. One resource is the book, Talking to Our Children about Racism & Diversity from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Share an age-appropriate response based on your child and their development.

Regardless of their age, Lassiter recommends being honest with your children. “Don’t placate them but give them a real answer.” Being honest will continue to build trust with your children. However, understand your child’s developmental stage and personality. A sensitive child may need to have a less detailed conversation and more reassurance.

Young children are perfectly fine with hearing a response along with lines of “There are good and indifferent people, not all people are the same. There are more people that are loving and caring in the world than who don’t care but what happened to Mike Brown was because an indifferent person made a bad decision.” Use role play, art therapy, music therapy to help them work out their feelings.

Middle and high school children should be introduced to the concepts of racial identity and racial socialization. Help them understand that while there is racism, not everything is centered on institutional racism. Use movie nights to start discussions. Fruitvale Station contrasted with a classic like Boys n the Hood can show difference in police response.

With a college-aged young adult, have a frank conversation. Introduce them to Lassiter’s concept of Sticking to, Getting with and Watching over.

Explain that the world is not fair and they can stick it to you. Don’t get into a masculinity contest with the police or anyone who is challenging you. Stay in the moment and look the officer in the eyes. Watch to see their badge number, their car number, any details that can help if you need to file a complaint.

Provide your children with reassurance.

Start by telling your children, “we need to talk and this conversation might be a little hard.” Reassure your children that you are able and willing to protect them so they should trust what you’re sharing is factual and appropriate. Finally, impress upon your children that another person’s response to them does not relate to who they are but who that person is and what they believe. They are still the intelligent, loving children YOU know they are.

Moving forward.

Encourage your children to think, as Lassiter states, “not about tolerance but about peace. Share non-violent conflict resolution tactics.” Share resources with your child’s school through a PTA/PTO group about tolerance. Consider The Teaching Peace Initiative and Teaching Tolerance as first resources. Enlist your local resources as such community policing and resource officers to come and talk with your community groups.

As a final thought, “Help your children understand that there are people who don’t look like they are willing to help them.” Teach your children that if they need help they should look for a police officer, a mother with children or another safe person. The most important thing is that they get the help they need, regardless of who’s helping them.

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