To members of the Ikon family and beyond. We hope this article finds you safe and well. We write to you in solidarity following the significant events which have occurred across the world this week. We are going through testing times individually, as families, nationally, but most importantly, as a human race.
When tragedy strikes, as foster parents you find yourself doubly challenged: to process your own feelings of grief and distress, and to help your children do the same. It’s understandable that many children are feeling scared, confused or angry about current situations. How can foster parents, many of whom are struggling themselves, help children process what they’re seeing and manage their feelings?
(The following text has been adapted from an article which you can find at https://childmind.org/article/racism-and-violence-how-to-help-childrens-handle-the-news/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=%20Foster parents%20Guide%20to%20Problem%20Behavior&utm_campaign=Weekly-06-02-20)
There’s no one right answer. That said, there are a few guidelines can keep in mind to help children deal with troubling news about race and violence. We hope that they support you to help your children process these troubling affairs.
Break the news and validate their feelings
When something happens that will get wide coverage don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened: It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells them. You want to be able to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.
Be developmentally appropriate
Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren’t over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.
Check in with your child. Even very young children are extremely perceptive, and they may have worries or concerns they don’t know how to express. This will look different for every child. Children might be afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or worry that something bad could happen to loved ones. Avoid making assumptions. Instead, ask broad questions that give your child space to talk over what they’re feeling: “How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?”
For young children, drawing, painting or acting out stories with toys can be helpful tools for expressing thoughts and feelings that aren’t easy to put into words. Do your best to meet your child where they are and acknowledge their feelings, fears or worries.
Don’t avoid talking about it
“Racism is not new,” says Dr. Kenya Hameed, PsyD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “These are ongoing problems. It’s going to take all of us changing the mentality and the mindset to work towards a better future and fix them.”
That change, she emphasizes, can’t and won’t happen without frank, open conversation — a conversation that for most black families has never been optional. “It’s really not a choice,” says Dr. Hameed. For families from BAME communities, racism is a daily reality. “Black parents can’t wait, even if they wanted to.”
White parents, she says, can help by addressing race and racism with childrens early and often. Research shows that even very young children are aware of racial differences, and children can learn harmful lessons about race when it’s not discussed openly. It’s helpful for white families to see that minimizing the legacy of racism in our society by avoiding ugly truths does children a disservice. Instead, white parents can commit to educating themselves and building conversations about race into childrens’ lives early on.
Additionally, white families can make a concerted effort to represent racial diversity in the products they buy for their children. For example, foster parents of white children can look for black dolls and books with predominantly black characters, which can help normalize diversity for children and spark spontaneous, everyday conversations about race.
Be clear, direct and factual
Emphasize that racial violence is wrong. It’s easy for children (especially little ones) to think that bad things happen to black people because black people are themselves bad. “Even if a child doesn’t explicitly tell you this,” says Dr. Hameed, “it is an easy assumption they can make based on how black people have been portrayed and treated throughout history.” Help children understand by speaking to them in a developmentally appropriate way. Emphasize to your child that black people are good and that being black does not make you bad. Treating people unfairly is the thing that is bad, and black people have been treated unfairly for a long time.
Talk about history. Childrens need to know that racism is part of a history that dates back hundreds of years, Dr. Hameed notes. At the same time, you can also emphasize your hope for a better future and plan ways your family can help make that a reality.
Encourage questions — and don’t worry if you can’t answer them
Children are likely to have lots of questions about racism and violence, and chances are they won’t be easy ones. They might want to know how racism affects them or why people treat other people unfairly. These aren’t easy subjects and feeling uncomfortable during the conversation is normal — but it’s not a reason to stop talking.
It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then they will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, they are likely to grasp what’s important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.
By tolerating discomfort you are modelling an important skill for your child. Be honest. You might say, “I find it really hard to talk about this. It feels scary. But it also makes me more hopeful about making change.”
Rely on your support system
Witnessing scenes of racist violence is deeply upsetting for many foster parents, but for foster parents of children from BAME communities, it can also be traumatic. Take time to check in with your own mental health during this time, especially given the additional stress of the coronavirus crisis. If you’re feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, reach out to your networks for support. Friends, family members, religious leaders and mental health professionals can all help you process your own emotions and plan conversations with children.
It can also help to bring in trusted allies to talk to your children themselves — having an adult perspective that doesn’t come from a parent can give them more space to sort through what they’re feeling and ask questions.
Keep the conversation open
Like any important topic, racism and violence aren’t something you can have “the talk” about just once. For children of any age and race, this is something that’s going to keep coming up, so be sure to let your child know that you’re there for them whenever they need to talk — and keep checking in proactively, too.
Be available and reassuring
It’s confidence-building for children to know that we learn from negative experiences. If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer. Children find great comfort in routines and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.
Memorialize those who have been lost
Drawing pictures, planting a tree, sharing stories, or releasing balloons can all be good, positive ways to help provide closure to a child. It’s important to assure your child that a person continues to live on in the hearts and minds of others. Doing something to help others in need can be very therapeutic: it can help children not only feel good about themselves but learn a very healthy way to respond to dealing with grief.
By allowing and encouraging children to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.
We are one race; the Human Race. Ikon Fostering