After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, people from around the globe have banded together in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. Locally, family protests have taken place in Chicago and the suburbs — with even more planned in the coming days.
Children already feel very little power in a world in which adults make all the big decisions; inviting your children to participate in family protests helps them discover power and voices, both as family members and as citizens. Here are some tips to consider as you’re preparing for a protest.
Make sure your child understands the protest.
Kids should know why it’s important to you and why they want to participate. Be clear what you are promoting rather than simply what you might be opposing. Talk about your family’s role in the protest. Are you there representing your own interests (supporting or blocking a local issue) or are you supporting another community (you’re white at a Black Lives Matter protest, for example)? If you and your child are there to support others as allies, then your role is in the background and any requests from press regarding quotes or photographs should be redirected to the people for whom the issue directly impacts.
Involve children in the preparation.
Make posters and buttons, teach them more about the issue, and make snacks to enjoy during the protest.
Establish clear safety guidelines.
Family safety is paramount and if anyone at a protest begins to behave in ways that are dangerous, your family might want to leave. That may mean different things to different families – especially if a protest involves counter-protesters. Be sure to settle on how and where to connect if things get out of hand or if you’re separated during a protest.
Write your phone number on their body.
Do this even if your child is confident they remember the number. If they are separated from you, panic might interfere with their ability to remember your phone number. In order to avoid this, write your number on their arm with a Sharpie.
Set behavior standards.
Help kids understand that inappropriate behavior on their part reflects poorly on the protest. Let your child know that if they have had enough, you will leave. This is especially important for children who struggle with anxiety or discomfort with crowds.
Discuss day-of pictures.
Are you and your child comfortable with having your photo taken during a protest? Will that answer change if it is a fellow protestor asking to take a picture of your child holding a sign or if it is a reporter wanting to take that picture? Decide on this before the protest.
Protest in a group.
Children feel safer with familiar faces around them, so if you’re able to go to the protest with a group, that could be a better option.
Consider protest-day dress.
Wear good walking shoes and dress in layers, bring sunblock, water bottles, snacks, hand wipes and a small first aid kit. Pack and explain safety items that you hope not to use: a handkerchief or scarf to go across nose and mouth, in addition to protective eye wear (sunglasses if your child does not wear glasses) in the event of tear gas.
Build in downtime after the protest.
It is in the conversations that follow the experience that children may learn the most, and be best able to express any feelings they have about the issue. Use this time to reflect with your kids.
Take kids to celebrations too.
You protested the city’s plan to sell local wetlands to commercial builders and the city just voted to keep the wetlands intact? Go play there. You marched for marriage equality? Go to the courthouse to watch the first couples emerge with their marriage licenses!
While you’re munching on the delicious treats you and your children made for the protest, point out to them that you are surrounded by a different kind of community when you protest. Rather than a community based on geographical lines, your family is now part of a community of like-minded, informed and engaged citizens.
Protect your family from COVID-19.
While many are finding the meanings behind the current Black Lives Matter protests worth the risk of contacting COVID-19, it is important to remember that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and you should prepare as such. Make sure you bring a mask or face covering for each member of your family and ensure that they wear it correctly the entire time. You should also bring hand sanitizer and try your best to keep six feet away from others, where possible.
The Illinois Department of Public Health also is recommending anyone participating in mass gatherings to get tested for COVID-19 five to seven days after the event or immediately following any symptoms. A list of public and private testing sites can be found here.
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