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How to talk to your child about how you interact with law enforcement

So many Black parents have to talk to their children about police brutality that it’s enough to refer to it simply as “the talk.” “The talk” is about the ways that Black children — and Black boys in particular — might be perceived as a threat by law enforcement and about the particular precautions they can take to keep themselves safe. 

These conversations are painful and it’s common for parents to avoid them. Often you just don’t know where to begin. But avoidance can give your child the impression that these conversations are off-limits. By addressing the issue head-on you show them that you’re there for them whenever they need to talk. 

Have the hard conversations (when you feel ready to do so). Ask them questions and when they have questions, answer them as thoroughly as you can. Be honest with them about the facts and about how you’re feeling. 

Start talking early 

Kids are sponges; they pick up information earlier than you might think. And while they may not be reading the newspaper yet, if conversations are happening around them (particularly conversations that you’re trying to avoid them hearing) their little ears are going to perk up. 

The specific way you talk about interacting with law enforcement will depend on their age, but the important thing is to start talking to them early. If you don’t know what to say, that’s OK, just start somewhere. Start with the facts. 

Be honest

Talking to your kids openly and honestly about your experiences with racism can help open the door for them to be honest with you in return. 

When it comes to issues of police brutality — and particularly when these conversations are sparked by recent events — it might take a bit for you to feel ready to have a conversation with your child. Take the time and space you need, but also know that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, angery, and/or exhausted, it’s OK to share those feelings with your child. 

Being honest with them will show them that it’s OK for them to be honest with you when they feel worried or scared. 

Making sure they’re OK

Talk it out and remind your child that they have a safe place with you. Make sure that you answer their questions the best you can and end the conversation by ensuring that they feel safe and cared for. 

Mental health 

If your child is feeling anxious or very worried for a prolonged period, it might be time to speak to a mental health provider. The following might also be signs your child is struggling with their mental health: changes in their sleep habits, physical complaints without any obvious problems, and/or behavior changes. ​​Some pediatric therapists specialize in anxiety and can help. Speak to your child’s pediatrician to find one or look through the APA’s Psychologist Locator

Your mental health

If you’re feeling very overwhelmed, anxious or sad for a prolonged period, or if you have feelings of hopelessness, it might be time for you to speak to your provider and find a therapist for yourself. There is help available. You deserve care. 

To feel fear and concern for your safety when you’re pulled over at a traffic stop or for a broken taillight when others just feel mildly annoyed is a marker of the inequity at play in our daily lives. While you can’t protect your child from this forever, you can create a safe space for honest communication and self-care. 

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