Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday in the murder of George Floyd.
Experts in child psychology say it’s important for parents to talk with their children about racism broadly, and about the Chauvin trial specifically.
“Colorblind parenting essentially says, ‘Oh, we’re all the same, color doesn’t matter.’ Whereas we know that in the United States, color in fact does matter,” said Marietta Collins, an associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the Morehouse School of Medicine and the author of “Something Happened in Our Town (A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice).” “So we advocate, instead, for race-conscious parenting, where you talk about race, celebrate similarities in race, expose your child to differences in race, expose your child to the richness of diversity that exists.”
Question: Should you talk to your child about the verdict?
Marietta Collins: I suggest following the child’s lead in the decision to have a conversation, and of course the conversation should be done in age appropriate language.
Ask your children what have they heard about the trial and how … they feel about the verdict. Parents may be surprised that their children have heard about the trial and that their children have opinions about the verdict.
Answer their questions honestly, clarify misinformation or misconceptions. … Some children may focus on the brutal nature in which Mr. Floyd died and may have even seen graphic footage about it. Other children may verbalize confusion or mistrust about police officers as a result of Mr. Chauvin’s actions.
Q: How do you explain the concept of a “verdict” to a young child?
Collins: Innocent means in this specific situation, this particular group of people (called the jury) decided there was not enough proof to charge Police Officer Chauvin for killing Mr. Floyd. Mr. Chauvin will be set free and go on with his life. Another group of people might make a different decision and find him guilty
Guilty [means] a particular group of people (the jury) believed there was enough proof that what Police Officer Chauvin did in killing Mr. Floyd was wrong. Mr. Chauvin will go to jail.
The way our system works is that the jury decides innocence versus guilt and the judge will decide the sentence (how much time in jail Mr. Chauvin will spend).
Q: Why is it important to talk to children about the Derek Chauvin trial?
Collins: It’s really important for parents to be prepared to have conversations with their children about the trial, as well as other issues which are related to racism, because even if you don’t have that conversation, the trial itself is being streamed online. People are talking about it. Children may overhear it and that’s the premise of our book, “Something Happened in Our Town.” The parents think that their little kids don’t know about the police shooting, but in fact they overheard it. So it’s certainly important for parents to be prepared to discuss this and other things related to racial injustice with their kids.
You want to take an approach that’s developmentally appropriate … You can say ‘Hey, I don’t know if you were aware, but there’s a big thing that’s happening here in our world on television. Have you heard about this trial? What do you know about, or what do you think about it? Do you have any questions about it?’ And proceed, based upon what your child wants to know. I think that’s really important.
Q: How do you have these conversations in developmentally appropriate ways?
Collins: The key to having these conversations is to follow your child’s lead. What is it that they’re asking you? What do they really want to know? Speak in a language that they understand.
Q: What do you say to a child who becomes fearful that they may be hurt by law enforcement?
Collins: Most police never shoot their guns, and most police are helpful to all people. But we can’t always count on that to be the case, especially if you are a person of color. … As a parent of children who are of color, I’d talked to my children very early on about how important it is to realize that because you are Black in America and because racism exists in America, we cannot assume that police officers are going to treat us fairly.
More police officers do a great job, trying to take care of society and they are trustworthy, but not all police officers can be trusted to make good decisions all the time.
Listen out for indications of anxiety, worry or other psychological distress your child might be experiencing. This might be displayed in increased sadness or moodiness, increased irritability, difficulty sleeping or a reluctance to sleep alone, less comfort in being alone, decreased appetite, or decreased pleasure in participating in activities that your child generally enjoys.
Be patient and accepting of your child’s feelings and concerns and assure them that the parents and adults in charge of them will help keep them safe.
Q: Anything else parents should know?
Collins: They don’t have to have all the right answers immediately. … But try to explain to children the diversity that exists in our society and how we should celebrate it and how we should embrace it. And yes, in fact, there are differences. Yes, there has been racism, and racism continues to exist in our country, and that your family has taken a stance, an anti-racism stance. And you would hopefully do that in all of the activities that you’re involved in with your children. It’s important to have open and ongoing conversations where you celebrate the rich diversity of our country and advocate for social change.
Resources for parents
You may also be interested in: