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Talking to your girls about what’s happening

By Lindsay Standish child life specialist, recreation therapist

Although it might be an uncomfortable conversation and you probably don’t have all the answers, we encourage you to talk to your children about race, privilege, and the protests happening around the country.

While I am not an expert on race relations, my 10 years as a child life specialist and recreation therapist have given me experience in guiding children through difficult conversations.

If your kids are feeling anxious and stressed, a combination of discussing what is happening and identifying positive coping strategies that work well for your child will be helpful in navigating these challenging topics. Creating a safe space for children to explore these issues is essential.

Use these tips to guide your discussion:

Discuss what is going onletting the child’s age and level of development guide you.Identify the facts and address any questions and misinformation.

Questions to ask your child:

  1. What do they know about what is going on?

  2. What questions do they have about what is happening?

  3. If you are uncertain about the best way to answer a question it is important to be honest and share that you are still learning as an adult too.

Validate that your child’s feelings and concerns are real and important. 

  1. Ask your child, “How do you feel about the information you’ve heard?”

  2. Respect their fears- no matter what they are.

  3. Practice active listening to validate what they have shared. Reflect or repeat back what they are saying and what they may be feeling to make sure you understand.

“It sounds like you are fearful that ___ may happen.” When you restate or paraphrase what has been said, your child has an opportunity to step back and reevaluate their statements and feelings

  1. If your child shares that they feel unsafe, help them think of ways to feel safe and let them know what you are doing to help keep them safe.

There are developmentally appropriate ways to talk to children of all ages about these difficult issues.

For school-age children (ages 6-12), in addition to talking with your children, be sure to provide opportunities for your child to play. Children often process and express their feelings through pretending and play. Observing their play can help adults better understand children’s thoughts and concerns. It’s important to create ways for your child to communicate their worries, thoughts, or questions. Activities can provide an outlet for children no matter what age to express their feelings in less formal or intimidating ways. These activities can also become part of daily routines to promote positive communication and sharing feelings.

Developmentally appropriate books on the topics of race, diversity, discrimination, and important related topics can be helpful resources.

For teenagers, it is important to give opportunities for open and honest discussion. Be available while also respecting their need for privacy. Teens’ worlds are more likely to include current events and social media, which can be used to help explore their reactions.

Both school-aged children and teens can be empowered by asking them how they can help create change for their community. This can be a time to discuss what courage, confidence, and character mean to them in relation to what is going on in their community and the world.

An age-appropriate explanation is better than silence because no child is too young to learn about appreciating and valuing other humans – especially those who, at first glance – might seem different from themselves.

And since you’re talking to a Girl Scout, you’ll have no problem balancing the conversation with the possibilities of change and a better future. Because that is what we’re all about.

Lindsay Standish is the Girl Scouts of Colorado outdoor programs chief officer and is also a child life specialist and recreation therapist.

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