How to talk to your children about Charlotte unrest

DURHAM (WTVD) -- Sara Willeford, a mother of two, says her heart was broken to watch the video of 9-year-old Zianna Oliphant expressing her pain and frustration Monday to Charlotte City Leaders over the shooting death of Keith Scott by police.

"I started watching it and then I paused it and was just crying," Willeford said. "I want to show it to my son - for him to see it. I think it will be important for him to instead of just hear it from adults about the situation - to hear it from a peer of his and how they are affected personally."

That's exactly how Duke Clinical Psychologist Dr. Robin Gurwitch says children are learning how to shape their own perceptions of recent police shootings based on their parents and peers reactions.

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9-year-old Zianna Oliphant gives tearful speech at Charlotte City Council

Psychologists say the effects are real and should not be ignored.

"For young children in particular, how the adults around them are coping, what the adults around them are saying becomes a part of what they understand about their world," Gurwitch said.

Gurwitch says it's important for parents to be objective with children about what they are seeing, but also use the moment to instill the values, beliefs and messages they want their child to develop and take forward.

The conversation seems to vary from family to family.


For black parents, such as Willie Mae Dockery, it's about letting her 10-year-old daughter know it's OK to talk to police.

"She's hesitating to go tell. But I say no - if a cop is around you need to go tell. I say if they are around, they are not there to hurt you," Dockery said. "They are there to help you."

For Willeford, who is white, it's a different message.

"I've talked to him a little bit about his privilege that he has being a white male and I want him to know that not everyone has that privilege. I want him to grow up and be aware of that not everyone is treated the same way that he is."

Experts say it may be time to have the conversation if your child is irritable, not sleeping or losing focus.

Additionally, if children are asking the same questions repeatedly, they may not be understanding.

So when is the right time to talk to your child about these events?

Gurwitch says don't wait for the child to bring up the conversation. Parents should ask questions.

Gurwitch gives this example of how to initiate the conversation: "There's been a lot of things going on involving police shootings and people getting hurt--tell me what you know? What you're hearing?"

Experts say when a parent brings up an issue, it tells the child the parent is capable of discussing difficult topics with them.

Experts say preschoolers should not be watching excessive coverage of protests and rallies.

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