The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd has begun. This trial has started a lot of conversations about the safety of our community, potential violence that may occur, how people are handling the situation mentally and emotionally and more.
This time can be especially hard for Black, Indigenous and kids and teens of color. It’s important to check in and monitor our kids’ mental and emotional health during Derek Chauvin’s trial. So, we talked with Dr. Jason Walker, child psychologist at Children’s Minnesota, to get tips for parents to help.
Why the trial and aftermath will be hard
The trial of Derek Chauvin is predicted to last months. Simply just the reoccurring media coverage and constant conversations around us can have an affect on our mental health.
“One reason this trial is likely harder for Black, Indigenous and kids and teens of color, is because many of teens have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic by spending more time on social media,” said Dr. Walker. “However, they are likely coming across more racist and hateful content on social media, which can increase anger, sadness and anxiety.”
In the last year, kids and teens have heard, or even seen, details about the killing of George Floyd and experienced the aftermath of this tragedy. News about Derek Chauvin’s trial can bring back similar or stronger emotions. Plus, Dr. Walker explains this case, like so many other cases in the past, may appear straightforward. “However, there is still likely a lot of fear, concern and doubt that the outcome of this trial will be any different than many of the others, i.e. that Derek Chauvin will be found ‘not guilty.'”
Tips to help your children through this time
Talk about it
For any parent, it’s important to talk about the events happening around us. Silence is not the answer. Dr. Walker explains parents should let their kids know they can come talk to them whenever they need to.
Although these conversations may not seem like a big deal, they’re extremely vital to your child’s mental and emotional health. “Let your kids know that all of their feelings are OK and not ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’”
While it may be easier to avoid the difficult conversations with your kids, experts say racism persists because parents do this.
And it’s not just families of color that need to be having these conversations. “It is important that other families have these conversations about racism with the goal of increasing their awareness of the subtle ways in which racial attitudes are expressed daily, as well as the more overt ways in which racism has created significant disparities in education, housing, health care and economic opportunities,” Dr. Walker said.
In addition to increasing their awareness, it is important for families to decide what actions, small and large, that they can take to help dismantle racial attitudes and actions.
Prepare kids for what they might hear or see
If you live in Minneapolis, a nearby city or in the state of Minnesota, this trial may feel extremely close to home. Because of that, kids and teens may see and hear different things. They may see different areas of the city closed off, or their hometown shops boarded up. All of this can feel overwhelming, and if it’s overwhelming to you, it is definitely going to feel overwhelming to your kids.
Check in on their mental health
- Check in with your kids at least once a week and ask them how they are doing. Some of the best conversations can come in the evening or at night as kids are going to bed.
- Ask your kids how they are sleeping. Increased difficulty falling asleep and/or waking up in the middle of night, especially if this is new, can be an indicator of distress.
- Finally, let your kids know that “it’s OK, not to be OK,” but that they should let you know when they are not OK so that you can seek out help for them, if needed.
Accessing mental health support
Access to many community-based support systems — religious leaders, family members and other community support systems — may have been disrupted due to the pandemic, so parents may not know where to turn. In addition to seeking support from a health care provider, families can try connecting with support systems online or in-person while wearing masks and social distancing. Access Children’s Minnesota’s resources here: Behavioral Health Support Hub.