The murder of George Floyd has brought to the surface (again) many issues and systematic failures within the American system. Everyone has their part to play to stop social injustice and racism against BIPOC. There are peaceful protests, riots, constant news coverage, videos, and lots of other media headlines that are being circulated around. How does all of this impact our children?
For the most part, children are the same – cute, innocent, curious and equal. At least, that’s what we want to believe. In reality, Black children and children of color have higher rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression when exposed to racism, discrimination, and traumatic experiences. With everything happening in the media, it is possible that all children are being traumatized, however our BIPOC children are substantially more traumatized. It is easy for them to identify with those who have experienced social injustice or died, as the victims may resemble someone they know. George Floyd could have been their dad, Breonna Taylor could have been their aunt, and Treyvon Martin could have been their brother. The list can go on and on; Michael Brown, Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and Laquan McDonald could represent someone familiar to them.
Can you imagine being a child and living in constant fear that you may die? Can you imagine being a child and wondering if your black family members are going to be alive the next day? Traumatic experiences, specifically racist and discriminatory experiences, can impact our BIPOC children for the rest of their lives. Here are a few tips to support your child if they are experiencing signs of depression or anxiety during this time.
Understand That Reactions May Vary.
Because every child is different, their responses may vary during this time. The protests and videos may cause some children to be irritable, while causing others to be clingy. Some children may have difficulty eating or sleeping. Parents should be empathetic, validate their feelings and be patient.
Provide Age-Appropriate Information.
Children want to be included in everything and are curious by nature. Provide them with age-appropriate information, so that they are given the facts that you want them to know. There are many resources out there (books and YouTube videos) on explaining racism, discrimination and what children can do if they experience racism.
Here are a few resources:
– Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice By Ann Hazzard, Marianne Celano, and Marietta Collins
– Antiracist Baby By Ibram X. Kendi
– Racism is Wrong By Educational Videos for Students
Be An Example.
Parents, you can lead by example. Utilize effective coping skills and encourage your child to join you. Are you a mom that does yoga? Teach your child a few poses. Do you read as a way to relax? Have a specified reading time where everyone in the home reads a book of their choice. Modeling behavior is a very effective way to teach children emotion regulation.
I always tell parents that children cannot multi-task. If you see your child displaying signs of anxiety or depression, start distracting them. Introduce a new toy, play a game, take them outside, play a movie etc. Distractions work by having children focus on things outside of their anxiety or sadness. Trust your instincts as a parent. If your child is displaying behaviors completely different than their norm, consider taking your child to a child therapist. They will help your child make a better connection between their thoughts and emotions through play and other therapeutic games. Your child will be able to recognize how they can be in better control of their anxiety and manage their depression before it becomes a bigger problem.
Children have higher resilience than many adults. They are capable of returning to their normal function with consistent support from sensitive and responsive parents.