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Posted on Aug 12, 2017

Helping our Children Understand Racism, Violence and Fear of the Future

Helping our Children Understand Racism, Violence and Fear of the Future

Kathleen O’Donoghue, Children, Youth and Family Minister


Dear families of All Saints Parish,

Fear. It is palpable today. People everywhere, of all races and social groups are feeling it.  Regardless of how far away you live from the terrible events of this weekend in Charlottesville, VA and other violent events across our country, we all experience anxiety and fear about a world seemingly out of control and our children feel this even more.

How then, can we start a conversation with our children about some of the issues that seem to dominate these acts of violence and fear toward vulnerable people?

Many suggest that these are issues of hate or xenophobia or anger and hostility that have overtaken us as a country. Some think it’s about a lack of addressing hateful ideologies, countries threatening nuclear attacks against each other, poor gun control, some believe it’s a lack of mental health services, or just evil in the world. All of these things may be true in some respect, but I believe under it all is the foundation of fear.

Our task as parents, educators and clergy, I believe, is to help expand our children’s understanding of the world, while at the same time helping them to feel safe in it during tumultuous times. Here are some thoughts on how to begin these conversations.

  1. Spend time with your children and youth. Kids of all ages hear things from friends, online and on the TV and may be worried by themselves in their rooms on their devices. Additionally, isolating oneself often magnifies the fear they have; thinking no one else is worried about the state of the world. Could you increase your connections in your family? This can just be casual family time, eating together, reading or playing a board game.  You modeling a calm presence is very important to your children and their feelings of safety.
  2. Limit, if possible, your children and youth’s exposure to graphic images and disturbing details of awful acts. If you feel you need to watch those videos or Facebook Live feeds to understand what is happening, you can do that out of both eye and ear range of your kids.  There is something to be said however, for protecting your own hearts from this graphic coverage as well. I am not saying not watching it makes it go away, but that seeing it yourself only increases your own injury as you try to care for your children’s spirits.
  3. Make information you choose to share developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Kids cannot tolerate the level of chaos we see everyday. The youngest child might only need to know that people are making bad choices to hurt each other instead of talking about what they are afraid of. An older child might be able to hear that some people have been increasing hate rhetoric against certain people groups and we don’t understand why. They might also be able to hear that the Black community is particularly afraid of this because it seems to be happening to them more than other communities. This morning’s news from Charlottesville might be shared with teens in saying that some very hateful groups intentionally want to hurt people they feel are inferior to them. Teens will have seen much of this information already and the best way to allow them to process this information would be to ask them what they have seen or heard and then ask what they are thinking or what they want to understand better.
  4. Understand that this is a time to triage and respond to a crisis, but the larger longer conversation about racism and fear of the unknown is just as important. Our conversations today is about white supremacists and leaders threatening nuclear violence against each other, but generally fear permeates our lives and seems to either make people rise up and protect others, or reach out and attack. How can we create a more resilient, less fearful spirit in our children today and as we move forward?
  • Not surprisingly, I would suggest coming to church! Find a solid foundation for yourselves and your children in a community that will allow you to wrestle with the tensions of faith and justice, belief and fear. Sit with those who believe in a merciful God who understands the flaws and weaknesses of humanity and still wants the best from us. Pray with us for God’s mercy and grace.
  • Bring your kids to church. We are available at All Saints Parish to talk with your children and youth, individually or together, about how this violence and fear affects them. What would you like to see happen at our church about this? Please ask us and we will make it happen!
  • Be the change you wish to see. Go outside and meet someone who is not like you and start a conversation about this! Reach out to someone and do something kind and unexpected for them! Write a card of appreciation to your Police Department, telling them you think and pray for their safety every day (and then do that!!!) Send a card to a pastor in a nearby church, thanking her or him for their ministry in the community during these fearful times.  Show up at a rally with or without your kids, as age appropriate. Demonstrate that you are standing in solidarity with those who are feeling unsafe.

How have you already addressed this with your children and youth? We would really like to hear your ideas and what you feel we can do to help you in this challenging work during these difficult times.

Here are some resources for your use in talking with your family about this terrible topic of fear and violence  and some alternate responses.

A really great resource from Dr. Laura Markham:

Age-specific resources on talking with kids about Race and Racism:

Basic discussion on white supremacism:

Some information on the nuclear threats between US and North Korea:

NY Times piece on Philando Castile’s death:

A thoughtful audio piece from WBUR, Chicago:

God’s blessings upon each of you today and everyday, giving you strength and wisdom in your life and in your family’s life.