Friday night, the media released a body camera video of Tyre Nichols getting pulled over, chased down, and beaten by Memphis police officers. He died 3 days after being detained. I personally chose not to watch the video, because it's a form of trauma and dehumanization of a black body. Instead, I watched an interview with his family and footage of him Tyre Nichols enjoying life through skateboarding. In my efforts to make an impact as a licensed counselor, I hope these 8 tips on how to talk to children about police brutality are helpful. (Photo by Jen White Johnson @jtxknoxroxs)
1. Inquire about what they know. It's important to begin your conversation with open-ended questions. For example, what do you think and know about the police? For other children with access to social media, you can ask, "I was wondering if you heard about the beating and killing of Tyre Nichols. By asking a question, you set the tone for a back-and-forth conversation versus giving them your own version of a news report. This format will also allow you to promote critical thinking skills and get a glimpse of what your child(ren) has picked up from their peers. This conversational style of communicating will help you determine if there is any misinformation that you have to clear up.
2. Teach children that sometimes police officers do bad things. It can be confusing to inform kids that an authority figure who is supposed to protect our community can actually intentionally hurt them. It's key to help kids understand these issues as actions by individuals and not the entire police establishment.
3. Be age appropriate. Children process traumatic news differently based on their age. For children under 6, it's common for them to repeat the same questions numerous times. Be patient and remind yourself that repetition is how younger children ease their minds. For children in middle and high school, use this time to talk about important issues like ethics and morality.
4. Show empathy. Ask your child(ren) how they feel about the tragic death of Nichols and
share your feelings too! When teachers, parents, and caregivers are vulnerable, children are more likely to open up more about their thoughts and feelings. Many times, kids have difficulty connecting with adults because we are seen as superheroes in their eyes. It's important for them to also see how we struggle with strong emotions. Be mindful, that it's typical for kids to regress a bit after hearing about a tragedy so don't be surprised if they want to sleep in your bed or engage in an activity they used years ago to cope with stress.
5. Limit Media Exposure. As you stay on top of the latest news, it's important to set boundaries on the amount of TV and social media you and your child(ren) take in. I recommend having a critical conversation about setting boundaries on the time and duration of your media intake. For example, it's not best to view the news right before bed. It negatively affects sleeping patterns and many times we need a few hours to emotionally process distressing content.
6. Utilize your community. Remember that it takes a village to raise a child. As we have these critical conversations, we can gain support from our neighbors, schools, churches, and the list goes on. We don't have to figure things out alone. I'm always eager to hear about how other parents are processing current events with their kids because I learn so much through my community.
7. Address the complexity of the issue. The truth is that all the officers involved in violence towards Tyre are Black is surprising to many but it's important to note that it's still a result of the influence of white supremacy. The influence of the same white supremacy employed both Black and White Slave catchers to track down and return escaped slaves. In fact, the police system was established after the end of slavery in the U.S. to enforce Jim Crow laws aimed at maintaining a racial caste system, but I digress. At the same time, the police officers involved must take full responsibility for their actions and be held accountable for their actions. Until we realize that police violence affects us all and that we have more in common as members of the human race, our communities and nation will continue to be polarized.
8. Seek Psychoeducational Resources
Seek additional resources and guides to assist in having critical conversations.
For instance, "How Was Your Summer?" is a guide for parents and educators to assist in teaching kids how to have critical conversations. It's tailored for children in grades K-12.
It has 15-minute activities that educators can use in their classroom and a home connection portion for parents to reinforce each activity.
My prayers are with the Nichol's family, Memphis, TN, and all those that are hurting from the pain of this familiar abuse of power and inhumanity by law enforcement officers. Let's each ask ourselves in what small way can we honor the life of Tyre Nichols.
Thanks for reading.
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Licensed Professional Counselor
Award-Winning Writer & CEO of Cobbs Creek Publishing