editor’s note

All of us are struggling today. A long, dark night gave way to a beautiful sunrise and we’ve seen so much goodness surge in the city — but there is also so much senselessness. As difficult as it is for us, as adults, to understand what is happening in Baltimore, it’s so much more difficult for our children. Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, director of The Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center, sent us some ideas for how to help kids deal with their emotions and how to start a dialogue with your kids about the riots. I’ve found her advice helpful as I talk with my own child about what’s going on. Although, as Monica states, I would like to emphasize that in no way do these ideas address the underlying systemic issues catalyzing and polarizing citizens in our city. First, let’s make our kids feel safe. Then let’s dive into the issues and be a part of the solution. – heather

Given the protests and demonstrations in Baltimore and the criminal activity that has unfortunately followed, we cannot expect children to ignore what’s going on around them. It can be difficult for adults to figure out how to talk to kids about such complicated issues. We worry we may say too much and cause greater anxiety, or not say enough and make light of what is obviously a serious situation. While there are no perfect answers, we hope that the ten ideas below may help children and families process the emotions that can manifest during stressful events in our community.

how to talk to kids about the baltimore riots

Security. Your child’s basic physical and emotional security is paramount. Reassure your child that it is an adult’s job to protect children. Reassure your child that s/he is safe.

Shut off the TV. Limit the amount of news coverage/TV your child sees. Some imagery and language is too adult for young children to understand. Use caution when talking about or viewing news coverage if your child is present as it can create fear or anxiety.

Explain Things, Matter-of-Fact. If you want to explain what’s happening, do so in simple, matter-of-fact terms that kids can relate to. For example, you might express that some people are feeling very angry and frustrated. Some people want to show they are angry. Protests are a great way for many people to gather and show how they feel – –  they can shout, sing or hold up signs to let others know how they feel. Hurting others, taking or destroying things that don’t belong to you are not safe or helpful ways to show anger. It’s not OK to show anger in a way that hurts people

Make the Discussion Accessible to Your Child. Discuss ways that it is appropriate for your child to express anger or frustration. Are they permitted to snatch or throw toys? Or hit someone? Are they allowed to destroy things? Just like children must learn how to show they are mad without hurting others, grown-ups have to do the same. 

Look for the Helpers. There are many caring adults that will help make things better, like your teachers. Police officers and soldiers are also here to help. They will do their best to protect the people and families in our community.

Regression May Happen. For children witnessing or directly affected by stressful events, regression can take place. This may include trouble with sleeping, toileting or separating from parents. Approach regression with sensitivity and respect. As s/he becomes more secure, your child’s behavior should improve. Depending on the severity of the stress, this can be a long process. Be a supportive, patient listener. Keep encouraging appropriate outlets for anger, sadness or frustration. (Always consult a physician if you have serious concerns.)

The Power of Play. Emotions often emerge during play. Take the opportunity to use puppets, dolls or action figures to play with your child. This is a safe format for your child to explore his/her emotions or questions about what is happening.

Experience Nature. Take comfort in nature. Walking, hiking and biking are calming activities for the whole family. Fresh air, sunshine and dirty hands are good for us all.

Art is Therapy. If your child enjoys drawing or painting, now is a great time to do it. Tape newspapers together or use the backside of wrapping paper to cover a table or floor. Sometimes getting into a creative flow can be a soothing outlet for expression.

Snuggle. Spend time snuggling with your child reading or playing games. By keeping a normal routine full of affection, you will continue to be a comfort to your child. 

In no way is this intended to address the underlying how’s and why’s all of this is taking place, but hopefully these talking points may help diffuse stress in your family.