And What About Our Children?

This is just a tough piece to write.  It always would’ve been, but seems even more so now after seeing the tear-filled, emotional pleas of a 9 year-old little girl who is saying, (apparently to an audience of mostly white members of the Charlotte City Council), that “we have rights too.”  For even the most stoic of us, witnessing this broke us down.

Charlotte resident Zianna Oliphant is obviously quite moved, quite affected, and quite possibly even traumatized by the events that she has experienced.  Her city in turmoil, she feels the anger, rage and fear of those adults around her. And so I am reminded, as should we all, that in the midst of all of this chaos are our children —  and they too are affected. Children take their cues from we adults, and many of us are not coping well with this spate of police violence enacted on our Black men and women. We are angry, saddened, anxious, worried — all normal emotions given this rather abnormal situation.  Quite frankly, many of us adults are having a hard time trying to make sense of it all; to understand the utter paradox of being Black in America and feeling like you have a target on your back during the Presidency of the first-ever African American elected to the highest office in the land. The irony of witnessing history having been made in that way, while simultaneously witnessing the emergence of racial hatred and disrespect in a way that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow days of old. So if its true that children take their cues from us, the question remains, what about them? What about our children?

  1. You must begin the conversation: The first thing to know is that there must be some type of conversation with your children. These events cannot go left unprocessed. And this is a teachable moment. The ‘how to begin’ and ‘what to say’ will be determined by a few key factors: first, where you as the parent or caregiver are emotionally given these events.  Gauge your own emotional state and coping.  It might not be quite the right time to engage your child in a conversation about the police-on-Black violence in our communities. Wait until you can talk calmly and rationally. Second, it will depend on your child’s or children’s ages and developmental maturation. It will also depend on how they are taking the events; how much exposure they have had to the media and to these stories, and what their response has been. Has there been behavioral acting out that heretofore did not exist? Bedwetting, suddenly feeling ill or sick with no apparent cause, wanting to miss school or not wanting to go outside, nightmares, acting fearful, anger or irritability.  All of these behaviors, and others, might be a hint that your child is having some difficulty understanding these events, and might need some assistance.
  2. Children take their cues from us: Like coping with any negative event in a child’s life, such as the death of a loved one, how they understand and cope is largely a learned phenomenon. Children learn by watching and modeling what they see in their environment. So, how are the adults dealing with this?  What are they saying and doing?  Is there anger, rage, fear or uncertainty? I’m not making any value judgments about any of those reactions — again, they are all very normal and indeed, expected given the gravity of this situation.  My point here is only to illustrate that children will ‘be what they see,’ and they will ‘do what they view.’
  3. Children need reassurance: When the adults are mucked up, uncertain, and can offer no assurance that things will be okay, the children are left in a place of great anxiety. Children need only a few things, but during times of chaos one of the really important things is a sense of stability and a sense that things will be okay.  To this end, we adults must consistently deliver this message, both in word and behavior, to our children. We must not try to sugar coat of hide the truth of what is happening. The message can be that yes, this is a difficult situation, but we have faced difficult situations before and like then, we will get through this tough time and emerge better from it.
  4. Dealing with police: What Now? So what say we then, to our children about this apparent paradox?  Again, this is very age and very gender dependent. The conversation with a 10 year-old girl will be vastly different than that with a 13 year-old African American male. For starters, we’ve always taught our children to enlist the help of a police officer, and in fact to seek one out in times of trouble. That they shouldn’t trust a stranger no matter how nice he or she seems, but that they can always trust an officer in uniform. Because this paradox (of the heroes hurting the people they are supposed to protect and save), is so illogical and nonsensical that we must help navigate their minds and behavior.
    • For ALL children, but especially younger ones, the message must be consistent from both parents/caregivers. Next, the message must deliver reassurance — remember that this is what children need above all else, to feel safe in this situation.  Third, the message should deliver hope and optimism.  And last, rely on the teachings you’ve instilled in your children to date. Perhaps a message combining all of these points sounds like this: “I’ve always taught you that there are good people and bad people in the world, but many many more good people. The same is true for police. There are good ones, and bad ones. But so many more good ones. They are not all bad.” For younger children, (and depending on their level of maturity), this should be just a part of the message. We absolutely cannot instill a sense of fear, and distrust in our children. But we must be realistic and honest.  And the truth of the matter is, not all police are bad.
    • Dealing with the police as an African-American male teen: After much thought and counsel with those who are parents of young Black males, I’ve come to this: the goal for our child is to get home, and to get home alive and unscathed. If one is stopped or pulled over, even if it seems that there is no justifiable cause, now is not the time to assert one’s disdain for police or to behave disrespectfully towards authority. The goal is to make it home, unscathed. Everything else can be dealt with at an appropriate time in an appropriate manner – legal or civil action. But now is not that time.  Unfortunately, unconscious bias and stereotypes criminalizing Black male teens have caused those they interact with to approach them with fear, or at the very least, trepidation.  And, police officers are certainly not immune to societal perceptions and their influences. The point is simply this: there is a time and a place for everything. The time to jump big and bad and mouth off  is not at the point of being questioned by armed police officers.
  5. Our children can get involved too (And we should encourage it)!  All of that nervous energy and angst that many kids might feel can be channeled and used positively.  Zianna Oliphant’s impassioned speech is only one example. Other examples have been seen nationwide: children giving bottled water to urban officers during the high heat of the summer — a gesture of good will that goes a long way towards healing damaged community relations.  Others have been giving out free hugs to police officers.  Encourage junior activism in safe and proactive ways. Perhaps children can use school as a forum to begin conversations with classmates. Hopefully, schools and educational settings can use this, and past lessons from history as a springboard to engaging in discussions about civil unrest and protesting and the positives that can come from it (such as those that spurred the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.). If the schools don’t, then certainly caregivers can.  Talk to your children about ways they can become involved int he conversation and the movement towards change.  Again, this is a huge teaching moment that should be capitalized upon.

So here we are (again). It is indeed sad that these conversations must be had.  Even sadder to have to write this article.  But it is what it is. How we handle this situation is so very important, and will have long-lasting implications.  Let’s handle it well.  And if we cannot, let us be responsible and seek help from those who can. If you or someone you know is not coping well with these recent events, or whose children might not be handling this well, please reach out to your pediatricians for mental health referrals, to your insurance company’s website for local mental health providers, to your church, or your state psychological association for further resources.

Be well.

The Good Dr. Nik


Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and @theGoodDrNik on Facebook, and read more of her articles at


Featured picture reprinted from Washington Post.




Sigh.  Here we go again. Writing yet another article about police-on-Black violence in America. I know there are some that don’t get it; that in and of itself is part of the trauma and injury.  This type of existence does something to the psyche. It does something to be Black and see story after story of law abiding, unarmed, non-threatening Black man, woman, or child be shot dead for reason unknown. Better yet, for no reason. It does something. It does something for a mother to fear when her child leaves the house. It does something for a woman to fear being pulled over — a ticket being the least of her worries. It causes a pain, a wound, a psychological injury that is trauma. And the trauma is real.

Psychological trauma, like every good trauma, manifests at some point. At some point it just becomes too much to contain for even the most well-adapted individual. We saw that with our own Sheryl Underwood as she went from subdued, controlled anger to an ire-filled, escalating outrage that ended in tears. I applaud her for allowing herself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the beginning of healing. Admittedly, for the vulnerable to be vulnerable is indeed, paradoxical. So what do we as a community do to heal?

  1. We must tune out: The continuous stream of information via visual, social, audio and print media allows for constant exposure to the traumatic incident. This is countertherapeutic and indeed, only serves to deepen the intensity of the trauma and prolong healing. Tune out from media imagery and updates and allow your brain the opportunity to process and make sense of all of this.
  2. We must come together: We are a communal people, and part of the healing experience must include leveraging this cultural strength. Attend an organized community gathering at a local church, university, precinct, etc. where there are mental health professionals who can normalize the emotions (and symptoms) that many are feeling, impart information on how to cope, how to talk to our children, and to help ameliorate this suffering. We need these gatherings to be safe places; not forums for venting (though venting can be cathartic and healing in the right environment). Trained clinicians can help to set parameters and boundaries during these small, community events.
  3. We must recognize the real enemy:  We must recognize the real enemy, and place blame on the real perpetrator. The real enemy is the racism, bigotry, and hatred that has been brewing for quite some time.  That is the real enemy.  That must be the target. We must not blame police, or target them as the easy objects for which to displace our anger.  And those of us who are community leaders must communicate this message loudly and clearly.
  4. We must deal with the emotions: There will be many emotions that have, and will continue to come up. These are indicators of the individual and collective trauma that many have.  Anger, sadness, hopelessness, apathy, rage, depression — these are all normal feelings to have. But they must be dealt with. As with any uncomfortable (or frankly painful) feeling, the tendency is to want to avoid it.  Avoidance will not be your friend in this context.  Resist the urge to numb your feelings using substances, sleep, sex, or anything else that can be used to distract yourself from your thoughts and feelings.  In fact, if you feel yourself running to a numbing agent, let that be a hint that you might really need assistance with your feelings, or possibly with an addiction. Deal with the emotions. And deal with them adaptively.
  5. We must talk. Talk is therapy: Allowing yourself to talk openly with your trusted person, your group(s) of friends, your confidantes, and/or your therapist can be cathartic. Given the recurrence of this type of event in recent times, I really do recommend therapy — especially for those who are the most emotionally vulnerable or susceptible to trauma. This category includes those with histories of trauma (veterans, abuse survivors, etc.), those experiencing prolonged sleep difficulties and/or nightmares, those exhibiting behavioral acting out, and/or those whose feelings are just overwhelming. Many communities, churches, and perhaps even mental health centers are offering therapy, and many private practitioners offer reduced rate or pro bono services. Research these in your locality, and you can also look for therapists on your health insurer’s web site. Last, you can contact your state psychological association via its web site for referrals.
  6. We must do something:  My mantra has always been that playing a very active role and busying oneself with positive, philanthropic activity is in and of itself, healing. Volunteer at the community center; coach a team, be a mentor. Pour into others — especially our children who so need us now. Keep them busy, engaged, and safely off of the streets. Get involved in your community. It will be healing both for you and for them.
  7. And what about the children?  Our children, with their undeveloped minds and inability to comprehend such complexities, are likely dealing with fears that we can only fathom. After all, they see that we have no answer to this problem.  And they may feel that there are instances when not even we can keep them safe. (And to a child, when Mommy and Daddy cannot guarantee your safety, you’re in BIG TROUBLE)!  Our children have seen many examples where the same police whom we have taught them to go to in times of trouble, are the very ones who have harmed innocent citizens. How can we help our kids?   Of course much of this really does depend upon their ages and maturity levels.  You as parents and caregivers will have to gauge how much your children can handle.  So take your cues from your children, first by listening to them.  Keep an open ear for what they say spontaneously, and respond accordingly. You want to balance truth and reality with safety, reassurance and offering a solution: our kids always look to us for that. Next, look for behavioral changes in them.  Acting out, irritability, bedwetting, nightmares, academic issues — these (and other previously unseen behaviors), could all be manifestations of acute trauma and fear. Talk openly with them about how complicated this situation is even for grown-ups, and that you don’t have all the answers. Importantly, reassure them that not all police officers are bad. In fact, assure them that most are not. And that violence is not the answer, nor is looting, racial hatred or mistreatment. When we act in those ways, we only perpetuate the problem. Use this as a teaching moment, and model the responses you give your children for your children. Last, don’t feel like you need to have all of the answers.  There are many resources and professionals out there to assist you.

These are difficult times, and this is a most difficult situation. No one has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t be in this wretched place. All we can do is to try to cope the best we can, reach out for help when we cannot, and look out for those that we know are struggling. It is my hope that I will never again have to write this type of article. The logical me says, ‘fat chance,’ and cautions me to keep the laptop charged. But I am an eternal optimist.  In the end, I will always choose hope.  For there is always hope.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik


Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and Facebook and read more of her articles at

*This article was re-Tweeted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans #AfAmEducation on 23 September 2016.