NEW ORLEANS -- Children know more about fatal shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castillo and the five Dallas Police Officers than some parents and educators may think.
Knowing how to talk to children about tragedy is an important skill for parents and teachers, but doing it the wrong way could have consequences.
Anthony Bean works with children every day. As the Artistic Director of the Anthony Bean Theater and Acting School in New Orleans, he takes time to talk to his students about what’s going on in their world.
Right now, that’s the death of Alton Sterling.
“I asked earlier how many of them have had the conversation with their parents, relatives … someone who told you how you could act when you’re confronted by the police, or the police stop you,” Bean said. “Almost all of them raised their hands.”
As an acting instructor, Bean asks his students to observe the world around them, but what those children may see could scare or confuse them.
“I’m very afraid,” said one 14-year-old in the group. “I don’t wish death on anybody ... To know that it happened in BR and that I’m so close to BR is scary. I can’t move over there because it’s happening everywhere.”
“I think some racist white people think we’re violent … and think that we don’t have feelings or lives,” a 7-year-old said. “But I think we should have peace in the world so that we don’t have to worry about anyone shooting anybody.”
Bean said it can be hard to have these conversations with someone so young, but what you say could have a major impact.
“They’re still formulating their ideas,” Bean said. “You can be instrumental and help formulate those ideas … If I can be instrumental in helping them with their choices, that’s a special thing.”
Julia Cook tries to make those conversations easier. Cook is a former counselor and author of several children’s books that tackle tough topics like violence and discrimination.
One of her books, “The Ant Hill Disaster,” was written as a guide for parents after the Sandy Hook School Shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as six adults.
Cook believes the message in “The Ant Hill Disaster,” could help parents in the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castillo shootings.
“First, you need to ask your child what they know,” Cook said. “What a kid will do is, they’ll hear a lot of things and they’ll have this little puzzle in their head and they’re going to try very hard to fill in those missing pieces.”
Cook advises parents to be very concise and to the point. Stick with the facts and if you don’t know the answer to their question, don’t act like you do.
“With social media, they may know a whole lot more than you think,” Cook said. “Don’t lie to your child, because if they find out you lied to them they’ll figure that out and they won’t trust you in the future.”
Latona Giwona hasn’t had that conversation with her daughter yet. She’s a new mother, whose baby is still years away from understanding the world around her, but that hasn’t stopped her from worrying.
“It is really not fair,” Giwona said. “In addition to worrying about things like school, recreation for our children, we also have to teach them about interacting with the police so they don’t get murdered … Teaching them about how to not linger or loiter so people don’t think they’re doing something wrong. It’s an unfair burden.”
However, she said she wouldn’t have had her child if she didn’t have hope for the future.
“That’s why I have a child. I think it’s an expression of hope,” Giwona said. “I’m hopeful that the world will change and that she will be a part of that change.”