How to Talk to Young Kids About Violence, Hate & Other Terrifying Things

As the Memphis Police Department prepares to release footage of a 29-year-old Black man murdered by five police officers in early January, it’s clear that Tyre Nichols’ story (like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd before him) is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to systemic racism and violence against Black people in the United States. And as protests unfold across the country and the world, kids and parents alike are feeling scared right now. With these murders as with any tragedy — especially those involving senseless police brutality and undelivered justice — the current events are likely leaving very young children with big questions that you might find difficult to answer.

How can we help kids stay safe (and as free from psychological damage as possible) while also helping them grow and learn tactics to overcome fear and deal with harsh realities? Here’s how you can do your best to explain the unexplainable.

“Kids are big thinkers, and their imaginations are not limited to fun, carefree topics,” explains clinical psychologist and author Stephanie O’Leary. “When you have honest, age-appropriate conversations about scary things, you provide an outlet for your child’s feelings, model healthy coping and establish that you are a source of support, even when topics are uncomfortable or frightening.”

Below are some tools and strategies for leaning into age-appropriate discussions of injustice, racism, and other tough topics — and tailoring the conversation to educate and comfort kids.

Racism, bullying, xenophobia, discrimination & hate

Depending on your community, your child might be surrounded by people of a thousand different cultures the moment she’s born. But she might not be. For children in homogenous communities, it can be a startling discovery to meet people from other backgrounds. Young kids may not know how to act around people who are different from them — or how to respond if they see or hear about someone being abused or otherwise mistreated because of their race, religion, culture, sexual or gender identity, disability, etc.

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