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Help Your Child Understand Ferguson (And Other Tragedies)

help your child understand ferguson

I was 6 years old when the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a house in a residential neighborhood in the city. The house was inhabited by members of the group MOVE, a Black liberation organization founded by John Africa. There had been a lot of conflict between MOVE, the community, and the police for a few years. In May of 1985, the conflict escalated, and ended with a bombing and fire that killed 11 people (including children), and destroyed an entire neighborhood. I remember that night vividly. Older family members were watching the tragedy unfold live on t.v. and I was right there taking it all in with them. Even though we were several miles away from the neighborhood that was under siege, my 6 year old brain just couldn’t comprehend that I wasn’t in danger. As I lay awake all night, listening to the faint sound of the news reports in the other room, I was terrified that our house was next to be bombed.

READ: Do Black Kids Have To Be Better Because They’re Black?

With all that’s happening in the world right now, with all that’s happening in our country, I can understand that many children are probably feeling the same way I felt that night nearly 3 decades ago. Overhearing words like “murder” and “shooting”, and the hearing folks speak angrily about police officers who we teach children to respect and rely on can be confusing and scary to young children. Why is Mommy crying? Why is Daddy yelling? Why is everyone so mad? What is going on? As parents, it’s our job to take care of our children, and helping them to understand what’s going on in the world around them is part of our duties. It’s not easy, but I have a few tips to help you out:

 Be Gentle

Remember that your children are children. Don’t talk to them about what’s going on in the same way that you’d talk to one of your peers. Things are already scary enough. You’re horrified that an unarmed 18 year old was gunned down in broad daylight? Imagine what your child is feeling. Wait until you’re calm to talk to your child, and be selective about the type of media you decide to share with them. Just like you wouldn’t let your 6-year-old watch an R rated movie, be mindful of news programs and videos that you use to teach them about what’s going on.

Don’t Project

It might be tempting to launch into a lecture when you have to tell your son again to clean up his room. He won’t have the luxury of not following instructions in the street! If the police tell him to do something and he doesn’t listen right away, he could lose his life! Sadly, while that is a reality for many children in our country, your home is a safe zone. Certainly give him a time out for being hardheaded, but keep in mind that he’s still learning. Be loving. Firm, certainly, but loving, always.

Embrace Normalcy

It’s tough, I know, to go about life as if everything is normal when chaos is happening all around us. Your home, however, is one place in life where your child should always know that they’re safe. Unplug from the 24 hour news coverage to read a bedtime story, watch a movie, or play a game with your child. Continue following your established routines. Your child deserves having their childhood protected.

Keep The Conversation Going 

If your child asks a question, answer it honestly. Be gentle, of course, but don’t lie to them. Find a time to sit down and talk to them (preferably not at bedtime) about some of the things that are going on in the world, and let them know that you will help them figure anything out that they need to know. If you can, pray with them for the state of the world, for the victims, and for all that is going on in our country.

Have you talked to your child about any of the tragic events that have happened in the world lately? How’d it go? 


Saturday 23rd of August 2014

This post reminded me of the morning of 9/11. I was interning in a 5th grade classroom in a rural, low-income neighborhood. An administrator made an announcement over the intercom about the first tower being hit, and we all turned the TV on. The children wanted to know what movie we were watching, and in that moment, we really had to decide how to approach the issue with twenty 10-year olds. We tried to explain what happened, as best as we could given the limited information we had, as we watched in horror as the second tower was hit. I don't that there's ever a "good" way to explain these situations to children, but as you said, we need to speak to them honestly about the reality of tragedy and answer all the questions they may have. And it's okay to tell them that we are all scared, too. That's just part of life unfortunately. Thanks for this post, Brandi!

Kristin Wheeler

Saturday 16th of August 2014

Great post Brandi! These tragedies are sadly the ones that stick in our heads. Everyone remembers exactly where they were during the Rodney King beating. You're right that we have to talk to kids in a different way. It's just a shame that some awful people have to make this world a scary place to be for our little ones. Thanks for posting this!


Friday 15th of August 2014

These are fantastic tips, Brandi. Thanks for being a part of the bigger conversation <3. I often feel inept when talking about these sensitive issues. It's hard to know how to navigate the topic of race. To know when you've said to much. When you've said to LITTLE. ButI believe these conversations have to HAPPEN: with our kids. With each other. On a larger scale.

Janeane Davis

Friday 15th of August 2014

I remember the MOVE incident in Philadelphia. I also remember that the next day the city came and had all the rubble carted away. My day camp took us by to view the scene and it was gone! I was a kid in day camp when I learned about cover ups by seeing it in person and on the news. It is important to talk with our children about these incidents because they hear about them and form opinions. It is important to keep the communication paths with our children open on these matters.