“I went to my room. I felt dirty,” said Jones-Kelley, recalling that day in the 1950s. “I knew it was wrong. So my mom had the talk with me.”
She recalled that childhood incident, and her memory of National Guard trucks rolling through Cincinnati during racial unrest in the 1960s, while talking about what parents should be saying to their children in today’s unsettled times.
Unrest is sweeping the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after lying handcuffed on the street in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, one of whom held his knee on Lloyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
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Jones-Kelley and other experts said listening to children and answering their questions in a straightforward, age-appropriate way is key to helping kids make sense of what is happening and to ease the fears they might have.
Protesters react to tear gas used by police officers to clear the intersection of North Fairfield Road and Pentagon Boulevard on Monday in Beavercreek. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
“What’s important with any age child is that you give them the opportunity to talk to you about what they’ve seen. You ask them questions. What do you think is happening? What did you notice? How are you feeling?” said Shauna Dilworth, clinical supervisor of the Young Children’s Assessment and Treatment Services program at Samaritan Behavioral Health Inc.
“It’s important for you to give them the space to talk to you about it,” said Dilworth, adding that parents should give straightforward, truthful answers but also not go into great detail with very young children about things like Floyd’s death.
Dilworth suggested parents also broach the subject of the unrest when they know their kids might have seen images of the protests but haven’t asked questions.
“Ask them, ‘What do you think about that?’” Dilworth said.
She said their feelings may come out as they play, perhaps by having dolls act out what they have seen on TV, and parents can join in the play and talk with the child in that setting. Having multicultural toys and reading age-appropriate books about race is also helpful, she said.
“It’s not about seeing no color, it’s about appreciating people’s differences,” Dilworth said.
Parents should also put the events in context and use it as a teaching moment about American history and that “race issues and inequality are real,” said Betsy Linnell, Cedarville University assistant professor of psychology.
She suggested parents help kids understand that peaceful protesters might be shouting but it is because they want to bring change.
Betsy Linnell, Cedarville University assistant professor of psychology
“The majority of the time people want to do what’s right. They are trying to give voice and help other people,” said Linnell, who is also a licensed professional clinical counselor. “Focus in on that love and compassion that we want them to have as children.”
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Jones-Kelley said children need to be assured also that the “bad apples” are the exception and “we can’t paint all our police officers with a broad brush”
“Show them the police officers that take the knee,” Linnell said, referring to officers in the Dayton region and across the country who have expressed solidarity with protesters.
Cheers erupted after one officer took a knee. Two minutes later, a second officer took a knee, and, shortly after, three more Beavercreek officers took a knee. Other officers dropped their shields on the pavement. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Many children already are anxious because of the COVID-19 crisis that has upended lives and killed more than 106,000 people in the U.S. In the Dayton region there is also the lingering trauma of 2019, when 16 tornadoes ravaged a wide swatch of communities on Memorial Day and a mass shooter killed nine and wounded multiple people in Dayton's Oregon District on Aug. 4.
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“There is definitely increased risk for anxiety and depression,” Linnell said.
Parents can help by giving children ideas on how to control their emotions, Linnell said. For example, she said, a teenager who is angered by racial injustice and the other events happening can be told ways “to give voice safely” as well as advised of the danger of mob mentality and the legal consequences of expressing anger through vandalism or violence.
“They need to tell them that feeling the feeling is OK. What we do with the feeling is what changes it to not OK,” Dilworth said. “
Sometimes professional help is needed for children who are traumatized by events.
“Some kids who have experienced trauma need services, just a person to talk to. Sometimes the parent is enough,” Dilworth said. “Oftentimes, being heard begins the healing process. And the therapist is just the vehicle for that.”
Signs that a child is traumatized and may need professional help include:
- Comments about wanting to be dead.
- Withdrawal from activity.
- New fears the child previously did not have, such as fear of going outside or of police officers.
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares.
- Overeating or not eating.
- Escalated or out of control behavior.
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering.
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches.
Jones-Kelley said it is important that children be reassured of their essential worth and be exposed to people who are not like them so they can appreciate the diversity of the world. And she talked about the importance of believing in a brighter future.
“There will be times that are difficult. We have to talk about it,” said Jones-Kelley. “But we have to remember that the other side of this is hope.”
Recommended books addressing race
Let’s Talk About Race - Julius Lester
M is for Melanin - Tiffany Rose
The Skin You Live In - Michael Tyler
The Day You Begin - Jacqueline Woodson
Each Kindness - Jacqueline Woodson
My Hair is a Garden - Cozbi Cabrera
All Are Welcome - Alexandra Penfold
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History - Vashti Harrison
Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness - Anastasia Higginbotham
Lovely - Jess Hong
A is for Activist - Innosanto Nagara
The Skin I’m in - Pat Thomas
The Color of Us - Karen Katz
Something Happened in Our Town - Marianne Celano
We are America - Walter Dean Myers
Hands Up! - Breanna McDaniel
Skin Again - Bell Hooks
Don’t Touch My Hair - Sharee Miller
We Came to America - Faith Ringgold
Chapter books and young adult books
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
This Book is Anti-Racist - Tiffany Jewell
If You Come Softly - Jacqueline Woodson
Long Way Down - Jason Reynolds
The Parker Inheritance - Varian Johnson
Monster - Walter Dean Myers
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor
Ghost Boys - Jewell Parker Rhodes
Blended - Sharon Draper
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - Christopher Paul Curtis
Piecing Me Together - Renee Watson
This Side of Home - Renee Watson
Genesis Begins Again - Alicia D. Williams
We Are Not Yet Equal - Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden
Dear Martin - Nic Stone
All American Boys - Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds
How It Went Down - Kekla Magoon
The March Trilogy - John Lewis
The Lines We Cross - Randa Abdel -Fattah
I Am Alfonso Jones - Tony Medina
New Kid - Jerry Craft
Books for adults
We Were Eight Years in Power - Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Water Dancer - Ta-Nehisi Coates
Thick: And Other Essays - Tressie McMillan Cottom
Becoming - Michelle Obama
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones
We Cast a Shadow - Maurice Carlos Ruffin
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Red at the Bone - Jacqueline Woodson
If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin
Go Tell It On the Mountain - James Baldwin
Push - Sapphire
12 Years a Slave - Solomon Northup
Source: Samaritan Behavioral Health Inc.
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