Family Connection: Resources for Talking to Children about Charlottesville

“She asked me, ‘Mom, do they hate me?‘ I mean, how do I answer that?” Last night, I ran into a parent, and we took a moment to rest together and share the weight of our heavy hearts. This will be my fourth year teaching her children, and as we have served on committees and shelved books together, we have grown close. We were discussing her sweet, smart, endlessly lovable daughter who happens to have a mixed ethnic background. This loving mother had tried her best to explain to her children what was happening right outside of their windows. She sighed. “Kids get right to the heart of it, don’t they?”

There is so much to say. But let me start, simply, with honesty. I don’t have the words yet to write about what is happening in Charlottesville. I can’t describe the widely-televised events in any way that is new or groundbreaking. I don’t have techniques to offer you to help heal or move on. Everyone processes trauma differently, and I’m simply not there yet. Maybe I will be sometime soon. Maybe I won’t. Words normally come to me as a source of healing and acceptance, and I don’t know when peace will come for me. All that I’m sure of is that right now, I do not have the words. Luckily, the internet is full of writers that do.

Despite my not being ready, the world is talking about Charlottesville. They are talking about our people, our community, and, mostly, about our children. They are asking, What do you tell your children when you tuck them in at night as shadows of torches dance maniacally across their walls in the dark? How do you teach your students about freedom, equality, and justice as the chants and rally cries echo from the sidewalks to the treetops? And again, honestly, I don’t know. None of us do. Teachers do not sign on for a lifetime of working with children because we know the answers to these kinds of questions. Instead, we choose this career because we feel deeply, believe passionately, and see ourselves as a critical stepping stone in a child’s development. As difficult and inconceivable as it may be, we have found ourselves here, at this moment in history, with the world’s eyes on our small town. We cannot change the past, and we cannot shy away from its repercussions. And so, we will do what we always do. We will take our pain and fury and passion and turn it into something constructive. We will teach.

Below you will find a collection of resources that have touched, educated, and inspired me this week. Some are directed towards parents, and others towards educators, but I have found that all lists can be used by anyone interested in bridging difficult and worthwhile conversations with children working to understand what is happening in the world around them. As I have said again and again, stories have unimaginable power. You don’t need to do all of the heavy lifting yourself; here are some resources to help.

  • Tools of Displacement: Maybe it’s just me, but before I can figure out how to understand or process or even look clearly at a situation, I need to have some information about the context. I’ve gotten the same question from friends and family all over the world: Why Charlottesville? In this article, widely-respected Slate dives deep into the history of Charlottesville’s Confederate statues: when and why they were created and placed, what the city moved or demolished to create space for them, and what different sides of the political spectrum feel about them now.
  • How to Talk to Your Kids about Charlottesville: The New York Times has compiled a diverse list of books ranging from pre-school-friendly read-alouds to graphic novels geared toward adults, all sharing the same themes – loving each other not despite our differences but because of them, and standing up and speaking out when faced with cruelty and injustice.
  • The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help: A collection of educational resources from The Washington Post for educators looking to tackle this difficult subject in their classrooms. Lessons, ideas, and text suggestions are complied from educators all over the world. Provides many links and opportunities for extension and deeper research.
  • Resources for Educators to Use in the Wake of Charlottesville: Instead of a list of texts that teachers may find helpful, NPR has put together a list of suggestions for talking points, historical context, and links for further research.
  • I’m a teacher in Charlottesville. Here’s how I’ll talk to students about what happened: Local educator Zoe Padron shares, via The Washington Post, a down-to-earth, plain-language list of suggestions for inviting difficult and important conversations into your classroom or home. I especially loved, “I plan to listen more than I speak” and “We need to talk about hate, a powerful emotion.” Padron’s message is loud and clear: you don’t have to be perfect, or have all the right answers. But you do have to show up, be honest, and create a culture where students are safe to feel, grieve, and question.
  • Nine Tips for Talking to Kids about Trauma: While many teachable moments will come from this weekend’s events, some students will return to school still processing trauma and not yet ready to learn. This list of tips from Greater Good Magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, is simple and approachable. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology or education to help a child process and move through trauma. Quietly being present, listening, and sharing your own feelings can make a big difference.
  • When Disaster Strikes: Talking to Children about Traumatic Events: The Center for Parenting Education provides a comprehensive guide for talking to children about traumatic events, including understanding how children react to trauma, signs of anxiety, and a helpful guide of reactions that children may have at different ages and stages of development. I found especially interesting the effects that 24/7 media coverage can have on young viewers, as I thought of how many homes likely have had news looping in the background this week without a second thought.
  • Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice: This comprehensive e-book from tolerance.org is broken into helpful chapters to guide parents (and any other role model for children) according to age, with separate sections for pre-schoolers, elementary and pre-teen years, and teenagers. This is especially helpful as psychological development and understanding of the world around them changes dramatically as children age. I found the expert Q&A and included tips to be very helpful. A valuable inclusion comes at the end, where the book invites readers to examine their own biases and consider how that effects the children around them.
  • The Elephant in the Room: It can be difficult to invite discussions about prejudice and racial identity into your classroom. For white educators and parents, there are additional questions – am I qualified to talk about race and privilege? Am I even allowed? Classroom Communities gives simple, straightforward steps on how to be the best possible advocate in your classroom and home, including some suggestions on getting to know yourself and your own limitations. The author reminds us that the communities we are shaping are much larger than just the children currently in our classrooms.
  • An Open Letter to the Educators of Charlottesville: It’s not necessarily a resource list, but this letter of support to Charlottesville educators about to face a once-in-a-lifetime challenge was meaningful to me. Written by a supportive educator in Indianapolis, it as a reminder that we are not alone, that our work is important, and that we have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to do great things in the wake of tragedy.
  • Social Justice Standards: These social justice standards from Teaching Tolerance serve as “a framework for anti-bias education” and are a thorough start to creating lessons and units that are inclusive, diverse, and positive. They may seem overwhelming at first, but a glance around the website shows classroom resources, professional development, and lots of other materials for educators looking to bring the standards into their classroom.
  • #charlottesvillecurriculum: An ever expanding (and slightly overwhelming) hashtag for educators to share their opinions, suggestions, personal writings, and resources on Twitter. I have not looked through all of these resources, and cannot personally authorize any of them, but if you’re looking for a wider range of resources and ideas, the educational community on Twitter is strong, diverse, and supportive. This could be a good place to start.
  • 8 Ways to Help after Charlottesville: If you’re tired of reading and ready to take action, here is a list of eight possible ways to help from lifestyle blog Cup of Jo. Her list includes resources to watch and read for a deeper understanding of the weekend’s events and the history behind them, as well as organizations that could benefit from donations. I will add to this list that Books on Bikes has an Amazon wish list filled with books that, if purchased, go directly into the hands of Charlottesville children. If you’d like to learn more about Books on Bikes, you can visit our website here. Find our Amazon wish list here.

It is easy and rewarding to help children explore the world when their questions revolve around butterflies and falling leaves. It becomes more complicated and emotional when something as ugly and upsetting as White Supremacy, violence, and terrorism march in your front yard. Just as you encourage discussion regarding innocent wonderings, I hope that you will choose to face these difficult and intimidating questions head on when your child inevitably asks them. We cannot always control the evil that happens in this world, but we can work to make sure that some good comes from the aftermath.

If you’re interested in finding specific books for your family or classroom, or would like to have a conversation about using literature to start a dialogue on difficult topics, feel free to reach out to me via my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.

candles

Cover image via NPR. Closing image via photographer Casey Kilmartin on Twitter.



Looking for more resource lists? Try these: Resources for Talking to your Child about Immigration and RefugeesResources for Talking to your Child about 13 Reasons WhyResources for Talking to your Child about Death, Loss, and Grief, or Resources for Talking to your Child about Diversity, Race, and Racism. See more here.    

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