WASHINGTON — With the jury convicting Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd on the same day Columbus, Ohio police shot and killed a 16-year-old, it's been a lot for anyone to deal with. A child psychiatrist said it's important for parents to have ongoing conversations with kids to help them process.
"As a mother, and as a mother of color, I had so much anxiety with the murder," LaJoy Law, who has a 9-year-old daughter said. "I was sitting there watching my television, and I'm like, Oh my God, like, my heart is literally going to burst out of my chest."
Now, she's working to figure out how to talk about the significance of this decision to her daughter.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Asha Patton-Smith said it's dual-processing for parents, as they work through their own emotions and talk to their kids.
"It's important that parents have these conversations with kids, these multiple conversations, that they're in a balanced space because kids can really test and know emotions," Dr. Patton-Smith said. "And we want to get a sense from our kids of how they're feeling because they may be feeling differently than the parent's feeling. Or the parent may think they're feeling affected in a certain way that may be different."
Dr. Patton-Smith said it's important for parents to check their emotions and take a deep breath before the conversations because they'll go more smoothly if they can be more listeners than educators.
"Kids need opportunities to process and need opportunities to express themselves as well," she said.
Dr. Patton-Smith breaks down her advice into different age groups.
Younger kids/preschool age kids: "Obviously, they don't know exactly what's going on, but they are really connected to emotions. So if if a parent or family member or the family itself is stressed, or excited or upset and angry, they can really have a sense of that emotion. Sometimes it can make them feel anxious, or they may say they feel scared, or maybe more clingy to the parents or family members. They may feel anger, irritable. So it's important to reassure preschool kids that everything's okay, they're safe, they're loved, they're appreciated."
Elementary/younger middle school kids: "They have a really strong sense of justice and injustice or what's fair or not fair. It's just developmentally where they are kind of moving. And so for parents, it's time to kind of check in with your kid and just get a sense of what they're thinking, what they understand about what's been happening. Making sure that you're giving them an opportunity to talk with no judgment freely. And also getting a sense of when they have certain thoughts of what's right or wrong. How did they come to those determinations, because it can give you a sense of kind of what their thought processes are."
Later middle school/high school: "They know a lot. They get a lot of information on social media. And they clearly have a sense of what their understanding is of things. And they talk to friends about these things. They also are activists. They want action. They have a sense of they want to get things done, where are the action items. And so talking with them freely about what's happening can sometimes be a little bit more challenging because my teenagers sometimes don't really want to talk to parents openly. I feel like car rides are a great example of a time where they can just kind of talk because they can't leave. But also just kind of saying, Hey, what's going on on social media these days? Or, you know, what are your thoughts about current events, just open-ended questions that initially may have one or two-word answers. But in time, there'll be more of an open-ended conversation, as long as they feel like they're not being judged, and really being able to express themselves. And for those that do want to act, talk to your kids about what they're interested in. I mean, some of my parents have gone on peaceful protest with their kids, others are donating to different organizations, to get the kids involved at every level, and make sure you have an understanding of what they're thinking before you assume you know, as a parent."
Law said her conversations have an extra layer, because her daughter has multiple disabilities. But regardless of where you're at, she said it's important to have these conversations with your children.
"We are going to have those have to have those hard conversations about why the world is the way it is, how it came to be that way, and then how you navigate through that," she said. "But I think the real conversation that I encourage all parents to have, and that I'm going to have with my daughter is how do we fix the broken system? How do we stop allowing these?"
She said her main goal is to make sure her daughter comes back to her safe every day.
"How do we make sure that our kids are safe, that you can walk down the street safe, you can drive your car safe, you can play at the playground safe? How about going to school? You know, Tamir Rice, I believe, wasn't he playing? outside? How do you play outside safe? These are real conversations that we have to have. And not only do families of color need to have these conversations. Every single family needs to have these conversations because it can't just be people of color fighting this fight. No, we need everybody fighting this fight. If you're an American citizen, then we need you fighting this fight. Because the system needs to be literally dismantled. We need to honestly start over."
Dr. Patton-Smith said throughout all these conversations, it's important to make sure parents are seeking help if they need it, too.