How to Talk to Your Kids About Violence

How to Talk to Your Kids About Violence

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The violence that has overwhelmed this nation over the last week is inexplicable in many ways, and yet familiar in others. Killings by cops, cops being killed: name the city — Dallas, Baton Rouge, Fresno or any other — and then add on a mass shooting in Orlando and international terrorism in Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq. 

And that's just in the last two weeks. It hits home. This is our country. And while policy debates about immigration, airport security and gun control animate our adult conversations, our children are absorbing all this in ways that we wish they weren't. And the notion of shielding them from this world is an impossibility — because chances are they already know it. 

The prevailing question now is: What do I say to the kids? 

Admittedly, there is no checklist or universal lesson that applies to all our children, all of the time. Younger children may not be ready for such serious conversations. Children in urban environments will feel differently than those in rural ones. 

African-American families will have to address their relationship with police officers in a manner white families will not. Supporting our children should be a universal objective, and there are some general principles that can be applied in the wake the recent tragedies. 

Take all of this seriously, as your kids likely are: You can be apolitical or have the television on all the time, but your kids are viewing images and watching videos of current events on social media, through their smart phones and elsewhere. Though these events may have happened far away, in communities your kids are not familiar with, they still feel real when streaming into their bedrooms. 

Don't ignore the conversation, but don't force it: Don’t sit at home, waiting for them to walk in, and say, "What do you think of Dallas?", your kids are likely to view it as phony and forced. Engage them naturally and don't lead the conversation. Questions like, "How are you feeling about what is going on?" or "Are your friends talking about Alton Sterling or Philando Castile?" will be much more successful. Let them set the pace and tone. Admit there are no easy solutions: In other words, don't lie. 

For families in communities that are more fearful of police, especially for African-American children, there is no perfect solution — as they know that complying with police demands can still lead to violence. But most police officers are committed to community engagement and outreach, so remind your children of that fact, as well as how to have safer interactions with police.

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