Ask an expert: How should I talk to my children about the death of George Floyd, coronavirus and other traumatic events in the news?

These tips from Zenae Campbell at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston are designed to help parents start conversations with their children about difficult topics. (Chase Brooks/Community Impact Newspaper)
These tips from Zenae Campbell at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston are designed to help parents start conversations with their children about difficult topics. (Chase Brooks/Community Impact Newspaper)

These tips from Zenae Campbell at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston are designed to help parents start conversations with their children about difficult topics. (Chase Brooks/Community Impact Newspaper)

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to upend many families' daily routines and the death of George Floyd and other black Americans at the hands of police officers in the news, Community Impact Newspaper spoke to Zenae Campbell, the vice president of program services and club operations at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, about how parents should talk about these topics with their children.

Campbell said while these are difficult conversations to have, it is important that parents create a safe space for discussion and use these current events as a way to educate children. In the following Q&A, she provides tips for parents looking to start this dialogue.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Are these topics something that parents should be talking to their children about?

Most definitely. In light of what's happening around the coronavirus pandemic, parents definitely should be talking to their kids about it, because kids know there's a difference. Parents likely are acting differently. Many are not going to work, and kids know their parents’ schedule. So that is something definitely appropriate to speak about.



Likewise for the things that are happening—that have been happening and have been heightened—around these racial and social justice movements, [parents should] talk to their kids about this. Kids deal with these topics with or without their parents, and so it's always good for the parents to be able to have a really informed and guided educational conversation with their kids to kind of help them process these things.

What tips might you offer for parents who don’t know how to begin these conversations?

It really starts with understanding your own emotions, your own education on it and being real with yourself about where you as the adult are with your understanding, and getting really comfortable with that, because kids do look to us. They look to us for that safety component. So [it's important for] us to be in a space to have our own kind of self care done around what we understand, what we know—not that we have to know everything—but that we're not ignoring it.

Then, it's always good to talk with your child and find out what they know. That's a great way to start the discussion versus trying to outright educate. Find out what they know because likely they've been hearing things either on TV, reading things online, maybe talking to friends or even just hearing parts of adult conversations about these things. So find out what they know, and then that gives a great space for the parents to start educating, providing context and providing their own perspective and their own feelings, and showing their own vulnerability.

Some parents may feel that they don’t have all the answers and might be worried about the hard questions that their kids might have. What would you say to parents who may doubt that they can have these conversations?

No. 1, know that you can have the conversation. It is certainly a good thing and an OK thing to be vulnerable with your child or your children about these really hard topics. Be honest with them that these are hard topics and hard things to talk about.

It's okay to educate together. That actually can make for a great experience for the parent and a child together to learn—whether that's researching or watching something together and then talking about how this makes us feel. They can go about that journey together. Even though it's hard, know that children are facing it and they can feel what we're feeling. So, you have to have those conversations. Because if not, you may have children that are being stressed or maybe even experienced their own trauma by the lack of the conversations.

You don’t know what your child may have experienced, be it with COVID or inequities or disparities that they may have experienced, and just don't know how to communicate. It's really good for the parents to open that dialogue and start the opportunities to have that type of dialogue.

What resources are there for parents looking to start these conversations?

Campbell referred parents to resources available on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston website under the Family Resources tab. She also said starting with facts and doing research with children is a good place to start. The conversation is continued below.

For racial inequality, talking to your child about the history of whatever group that you want to focus on. So, if you're focusing on African Americans, talk about slavery; talk about the things that happened; how [slaves] even came to the United States of America; talk about the civil rights movement; talk about all those things and how we end up here today.

Around the pandemic, look at factual data. So look at the CDC and what they tell us to do and why, and what are those consequences.

Of course, you want to make everything age-appropriate. Depending on age, you can go light where you need to or heavy where you need to.

Speaking of age appropriateness, do you think there is an age too young to have these conversations, or do you think that children of all ages should be having these conversations, just tailored to their specific needs?

Definitely the latter. Children at all ages experience and understand based off of the adults in their life. So, whether the parent is bothered by something, the child can understand that, and that goes for young toddlers. Obviously, you want to be appropriate in terms of how you deal with that, but it is definitely appropriate to continue that conversation and dialogue with your child to help them through their range of emotions. We all need to prioritize our own social and emotional well-being, and this is a part of that.

Do the conversations that need to happen vary depending on the race or ethnicity of a family?

There is no avoiding that. It is likely that for parents in communities of color, that their child may have already experienced something. And that makes the conversation go differently.

But the conversation itself is needed. It's needed for all groups. This is something that impacts and affects everyone, so we need to have those conversations so we can all understand and check our biases and understand how to connect and relate to one another and help each other have a better and brighter future.

What advice would you offer for parents of children who may have taken either the changes brought on by the current virus pandemic or the news about the death of George Floyd and other racial and justices particularly hard?

So continuing what we've already talked about and having a conversation—talking to your child about their feelings, talking to them about how right now they're coping. Kids understand that. [Ask] what are you doing because you feel that way? That way, the parent has a good space to be able to say, 'How can I help?' or 'What can I provide to help that?'

Then, know that help does exist. Look for resources. Don't be afraid to get professional help or assistance if needed. And that can come in so many different ways from counselors to mentors, to doctors and clinicians. But seek the help that you need.

By Claire Shoop
Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.


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