7 Reminders for White Parents Talking to Their Kids About Police Killing Black People

Don’t worry about traumatizing children. Show them that having strong feelings about horrible things happening in the world is part of being human.
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White privilege, racism, and police brutality are not conversations you can have once and stop there.”

Photo by Adriana Varela Photography/Getty Images.

As a White parent of White kids, ignoring the police slayings of Black people and other people of color could be easy. However, as a halfway decent person who wants to raise kids who are not monsters, I believe that as White people, talking to kids about White privilege and what is happening in this country to people of color is essential. I know it can be difficult to know what to say to kids and how to talk to them about these events, but we must. Here are some tips that have worked with my kids, but of course all families and kids are different, so use what’s useful and discard the rest.

1. Remember Your Privilege.

Many White parents are scared that talking about police killings will traumatize their children. I can relate to this fear, but it is important for White parents to remember that this conversation is nothing compared to the conversations Black families have to have. We need to prioritize creating White co-conspirators/allies and be constantly aware that other families are being torn apart by the police and the prison industrial complex. For us, parents of White kids, the stakes are really low and while we don’t want to traumatize our kids on purpose, if we are really going to try to work for a more just world, it is a small price to pay.

2. Kids are Weirdos

Another note on being scared about traumatizing kids: Kids are little awesome weirdos, and they tend to be traumatized by things that you would never imagine and take other things in stride. For example, I watch tons of true crime shows and my kids have no issues with it, but if deer are in the backyard, my oldest son loses it. While, of course, talking about police killing Black folks indiscriminately should elicit some strong emotions in kids, having feelings about the horrible things happening in the world is not a bad thing, it’s part of being human.

3. Don’t Forget to Focus on Black Resistance

If you just focus only on the ways that Black people are being victimized you may leave kids with the feeling that White people need to “save” them, and that is obviously not what you want the takeaway to be. Black people have survived and fought against continuous threats to their survival in this country and continue to be the primary force working against racism and other injustices. The Black Lives Matter network and the Movement for Black Lives are great places to start, and you can also give kids some concrete ideas of things you can do together as a family to support Black-led movements. However, it’s also important that you talk about the resistance movements of the past such as the fight against slavery, the civil rights movements, and the Black Power movement. Make sure you include the endless examples of Black resistance and resilience.

4. Kids Understand Unfairness

Thinking about having these conversations with young children may seem daunting, but you may be surprised at how quickly they understand. Kids are often more attuned to inequality and unfairness than adults. Children are naturally attuned to justice. If you ever doubt that, try giving siblings a different amount of candy. Though this is much more serious, it is also very simple: Black people are treated unfairly with consequences up to and including death.

5. Kids Also Know About Death

Kids at different ages have different understandings of death, but even at 3 or 4, they understand that death exists, though they may not understand it is permanent. Either way, talking about people being killed is something that kids will have some kid-type concept of already, and they will likely be able to fit this new information into what they already know.

6. Make Showing Up An Expectation

In our family, we have set the expectation that our kids should say something or do something to combat racism whenever possible. This can be complicated and nuanced as a White person of any age, and we all mess up sometimes, but they must understand that doing nothing in the face of injustice is not acceptable. Older kids will probably learn about bullying and not being someone who allows bullying to go on in their presence. This framework has given us an easy way to talk about what we expect from them, but we also talk about the importance of following the lead of the people most affected.

7. No Matter What—Keep Talking

White privilege, racism, and police brutality are not conversations you can have once and stop there. Unfortunately, you can use plenty of instances in the news as a jumping off point for these conversations. Even if conversations don’t go quite as you planned, make sure to keep talking to your kids. They may not understand everything right now, but as they get older they will slowly get it.

It cannot be stressed enough how easy we, as White people, have it and how much racial privilege we have. I’m extremely open to hearing any critiques or comments about this list. As White parents, we are given an easy opportunity to help to make change. No one who cares about justice can afford to keep quiet.

This article was originally published by The Body Is Not An Apology. It has been edited for YES! Magazine.