Child psychologist provides advice on how to discuss protests and riots with kids

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DENVER (KDVR) — Some of the sights, sounds and stories coming out of Denver are difficult for adults to understand, let alone children and teens.

FOX31 spoke to a child psychologist about the best ways to navigate through this time with your kids.

Six-year-old Bella Murray learned firsthand about tear gas from her family’s sixth floor apartment on Grant Street. Her parents say tear gas started seeping in and they watched as fires started down below on their street.

“She was like, ‘why is this happening?’ She was crying, running in and out of her room hysterical, like, ‘are they going to light the house on fire, are we going to die?'” Bella’s mother Jacqulyn Murray said. 

Experts say the questions Bella and other children are asking become more harmful if they go unanswered.

“Having kids be in the dark, saying, ‘I don’t know how should I feel about police officers,’ having them be in that state of anxiety is just going to perpetuate more anxiety,” child psychologist Dr. Sheryl Ziegler said. 

Ziegler’s main message to parents is, do not avoid talking about this topic with your kids. 

“It’s just not enough to say, ‘well, I’m not racist, I don’t need to do anything,’”  Ziegler said, adding, “You need to do something and I think that starts in the home.”

From toddlers to teens, Ziegler says parents need to take the lead and use this historical moment in time to talk about race and inequality.  

“I would say, ‘there are different ways you can show your country, government, others that you disagree with what’s happening. One of them are protests and protests can be peaceful,'” Ziegler advised.

Bella’s parents showed her what peaceful protesting looks like from their apartment. Then, they took an early morning trip to the Capitol Sunday to show her impacts of rioting before protests resumed. 

“Were you mad? Were you sad? How did it make you feel?” Bella’s father asked.

“I don’t actually know,” the 6-year-old responded, adding, “I was scared for my bird and my pillow.”

In addition to addressing Bella’s reactions and questions, her parents are reinforcing a takeaway message of action that any age could learn from.

“Love each other, have compassion,” Jacqulyn said. “We all want to hear each other and have a voice. We can hear it but we don’t need to hurt people and destroy businesses.” 

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