The outcome of former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in the death of George Floyd has a Northern Virginia psychiatrist offering advice on helping children navigate issues related to civil unrest, racism and police accused of violence.
“These are tough topics,” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a Kaiser Permanente child and adolescent psychiatrist who practices in Burke and Falls Church.
“What’s important as a parent when we’re dealing with kids and racism, kids and the police, is to make sure that we are, as parents, very open and not creating our own thoughts and feelings about these things and placing them on our kids,” she said.
Helping children evolve into responsible citizens, Patton-Smith said, means allowing them to have their own understanding of what racism is and how to deal with differences.
“Sometimes they can hear things or see things or hear parts of things, but their understanding may be completely different than your understanding,” Patton-Smith said.
It can be very scary for children who see interactions involving police, or incidents involving police and protesters who become violent. Parents, she said, should remain calm and offer reassurance.
“As much as possible, it’s important for you to reassure your child that you are safe. They are safe. And have an open dialogue with your child about how they’re feeling and how they’re thinking,” Patton-Smith said.
Also, spend time with children while they’re on social media, or while they’re watching or listening to the news.
“So that you can create that ability to have a conversation in real time and really get a sense of what they’re seeing, hearing and being able to comprehend,” said Patton-Smith, who warned not to overdo it.
“Over-consumption for children and adults — of any of the events that are happening or anything that can be very stressful — can increase anxiety, can also increase depression.”
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