How Differently We Have to Explain ‘Insurrection’ to Children and Ourselves

So, the recent events that unfolded in our nation’s Capital brought Americans directly in front of their mirrors-PAST meeting PRESENT, to reflect on who this country is, and what we stand for. Are we the democracy that we are so proud to tell ourselves and everyone else? What do we tell our children is America?

trump nation
COVID-19, for months now, has forced everyone to stay at home. As a result also, this pandemic has presented many learning opportunities-“teachable moments” –for children and adults alike. We were rendered captive audiences, forced to watch television, for entertainment and for news. The nightly news, where ratings had continued to decrease, all of a sudden caught everyone’s attention. George Floyd, BLM, and then came- the ‘Insurrection’. Adults watched. Children watched. Families watched together. America in action. Those who didn’t watch right away, heard talk of the events at the Capitol Building, and were compelled to see for themselves. What a revelation!

What was thought to be impossible, exaggerations and complete lies about the actions alleged to have been taken by our police men and women and our elected and appointed officials, was played out in front of our eyes. There was no denying its truth. What was equally as shocking to watch was the heinous acts committed by our citizens themselves-and they were also white Americans.

Tough enough for black parents regarding necessary conversations to have with their children,  was to warn and prepare them for the potential, and highly probable interactions with law enforcement- the protocol, rules of engagement and the consequences. These discussions had become a ‘regular’ aspect of parenting. It was an unfortunate routine out of daily concern for their children’s safety; not about any criminal acts that their child may or may not have committed. It was about the assumptions of guilt held by police and the narratives that law enforcement held as justification for disregarding their rights. Seen as threats, not cautioning children against committing criminal acts, parents had to teach them how to act, what to do and what not to do in their presence.
You see, there has always been a double standard, two separate sets of rules and race-based experiences in American society. What was permissible behaviors and attitudes  for whites, was impermissible for blacks. Everyone understood that, and children grew up learning that as a fact of life as a black person in this country. Whites could exercise freedom of speech, and expect the presumption of innocence first. Whites could engage in conversations with authority figures without seeming ‘uppity’ or ‘sass-mouthing’. That was tolerated and accommodated.

Ask questions? If a black person dare question whites or law enforcement specifically, it was seen as defiance, an act of violence of sorts against them. After all of these years, there was still a ‘place’ for black folk. Worse than that, children were taught to understand that they had to stay in their place around whites, or anything belonging to or associated with white people.

insurrection
Protests? With the knowledge that there was always a separate set of rules to abide by, their collective and unified voices of dissatisfaction are almost always peaceful, non-violent and definitely not destructive. Black people, when in protest mode, fight for total equality, equity and access- as no different from all others. The fight is never to destroy the democratic process or property, but rather to insist that we uphold its tenets in practice.Thus, discussions about the Capital and the ‘insurrection’ impacts black families much differently than it affects whites.

When we explain to ourselves or our children that which played out on television, it is not as life-shattering an issue for black parents. It rests upon the non families of color, to do the explaining and make sense of what they and their children saw on TV. Their messages are different and less confusing, mainly because by the time they become parents, they already understand America better than America understands itself.
In other words, blacks look at those images and tell themselves that it is confirmation that there is a double standard. They tell their children that these are acts that they could never imagine themselves doing and getting away with it or imagine  surviving.  For black people, it was evidence of that contradictory American standard practices.
They can say to themselves and their children, with certainty that this would never be allowed to happen at all had they been black. The National Guard, Local police and even the Marines would have been at the gates, steps with full riot gear. Rubber and real bullets would fly and people would lose their lives, be beaten and/or arrested, long before they made their way to the top step.

They tell themselves ‘see, that’s white people!” That is not their concern, because theirs is deeper and more basic than that. Many black families are certainly saying to one another, “Thank goodness they weren’t black people involved here.”  That is the extent to which they must explain the way people terrorized the very foundational pillars of government.

So, the many articles that are written and conversations that center around ways to explain that scene to children, it is a white conversation. What happened at that federal building, proved confusing and difficult to speak about, because what was shown was not black people in action. They were people who looked like themselves and their children. Whites teach and tell themselves to expect raw mob violence from black people. It is what the media reinforces. This latest scene dictated that it is this group who must explain to their children.
These people weren’t the Klan, wearing white robes, and they weren’t seeing Middle Eastern or indigenous folks either. They saw themselves and it was shocking. Certainly none of them thought that they would ever live to see such acts committed by the people for whom this country was structured and intended to benefit. 

Explanations? I can’t lie and tell you that I know what you should say to your children. What I do know with certainty is that it is time to reflect on your values, your core issues and concerns about this democracy. As flawed as we may be, this is certainly among the best governments designed for white people. Its documents suggest all people, but somehow white people, still reaping the benefits of this government, are apparently feeling threatened, fearful and incredibly angry and destructive.

capital mess
What has to be explained to children is why there is so much anger, fear and why things like this can happen when they are the actors- perpetrating such violence. Explanations must center around how fear can become anger and rage and then violence; pure lawlessness.

Why was the law rendered helpless? That is never seen in real life, on TV and truly not what we lead children to believe ever happens. The ‘good guys’ did nothing. They allowed themselves to be overrun, overpowered and made to look either inept or complacent, and otherwise nonexistent in that situation.

Try to explain, first to yourselves, to make sure that it makes sense and that you can answer these questions honestly. Ask those very basic questions and try to come up with answers that are the real true answers. Children can no longer stomach lies that we have been telling ourselves and them for generations now. This generation has their own sources of information, and they can compare notes, easily.

Be honest. If you don’t have any answers, begin by reading the various accounts of what happened. Look for information that contradicts your belief, and explore them all. Your jobs are made more complex if you believe that children aren’t going to go online and look for their own answers. They will hear from other people.
As the saying goes-“keep it real”. This may be one of the most important discussions to hold with your children. What you tell them needs to be well thought out. As much as we know about children’s brain development, we should know that they know, fundamentally, when we aren’t being forthcoming. They may just ignore you. You will have to tell your children about white privilege, and identify its roots as being white supremacy. What you have to tell them is that both of these are fallacies, myths, and reasons to be lazy and get automatic rewards and allows one to be rewarded absent merit, hard work, but by melanin content alone.

You will have to engage in the examination of all that Confederacy means, and what it has meant in this country. Above all else, explanations to children will certainly center on and connect to racist ideologies. Explain how they connect. Explain that racism  became a prevalent perspective that influenced practices, including laws. You may even have to show evidence of where and how these laws were written. Finally, you may be called to connect the past with the present, as they are still so clearly inter-related.

Don’t let them tune you out now. There will come a time when children will need you to tell them the truth, and are counting on it from you. Disappoint them and you may just set a terrible precedence, from which you may never recover, as parents to whom your children look for guidance. The truth is always best, but you must be open to that truth first. All conversations are that much easier  when you are sure of the truths and also recognize the tendency for people to embrace their own manufactured truths.

mob scene

Children need to know why those people did what they did. Although no one can say with absolute certainty, there is a root cause and factors that influenced them as well. American parents, white parents, it is this latest incident that will force everyone to reflect. Reflect? The incident at the Capitol Building just presented another opportunity for us all to get things right. We can now begin the process of either, being strong enough to stand up for what’s right versus what’s not. Or we can pretend that we don’t know what happened or why or where the initial seedling came from. It wasn’t President Trump, although he had a big hand in these events. It is deeper rooted than he alone; he just tapped into it as it had been cleverly hidden to the masses.

Will you tell your children the same old stories? Will you tell children or each other that this was a sad look at American hatred? Did this arise out of love for this country or a hatred for the ‘other’ in this country? That hatred is an outward symptom of an inward fear. How do you feel about these issues?

How do you wish your children to feel, grow to believe about themselves? Do you wish them to feel ‘entitled’ or ‘competent’? Competent implies a sense of self-esteem, confidence in one’s own ability and worth by deeds. Entitled implies a feeling that one is owed something just because. Rather, because they put in the work, met the competition unafraid and fully prepared, certain that they are qualified, with the strength of character to accept the possibility that someone else may be more qualified and prevail. A fair fight throughout life. Is it helpful that it is skin color that determines what one can do or where one can go in life?  

Decide to take in some harsh truths about who we are as human beings, American citizens and as parents and teachers of the next generation. Do we wish this for their future, too? Remember that the future you may want to see for your children may not be the world in which they wish to live. This is an opportunity for America to take the ‘blinders’ off to face some harsh truths and show our youngest people that we are better, stronger, more informed and educated than our past.

If we recognize a problem,  we have to openly admit that there is a problem. This is a problem for America, and not a novel one. Don’t ‘whitewash’ it. Also, remember that, if anyone is even the least bit proud of their actions on that day, there would be no national efforts to identify and apprehend these folk. They would speak out and stand proud of their participation. To me, it sends a message that there is deeply felt shame for what was done. Tell the truth-shame the Devil! Your children will respect your honesty.

This latest stain on history was an event that also serves as an opportunity to commit to growth and positive change. Show who you really are, the values you hold dear and demonstrate that, above all else, you are willing to uphold every one of the values you teach and sometimes preach to your children,  with consistency. In the end, it remains a personal decision. What and how did you tell your children?

 

 

A Parent’s Mini-Guide to School Discipline

A child who is facing disciplinary actions still has rights in the school environment. It is important that you, as a parent, understand those rights.  In the time of COVID-19, whether virtual or in person learning, information surrounding the rules of discipline can be powerful in a parent’s hand. If your child attends a public school in New York City[NYC], for example [not a charter school], here is a guide to the standard school discipline protocols. If your child attends a public school in any part of the United States, expect similar guidelines.There will be written rules and regulations that guide disciplinary practices.  

When removed from class or suspended from school, your child must still be given academic instruction. In NYC, only 3 types of removals from class or school are allowed.

  1. TEACHER CLASSROOM REMOVALS                                                                                   A student who is ‘very disruptive’ or interfering a lot in the classroom may be removed from class by the teacher. The student may be removed for 1 to 4 school days. The teacher is required to tell the principal of the removal that same day. The principal must make every effort to call or tell the parent of the removal also that same day, but no later than the next day. This gives you, the parent, a chance to meet and discuss the removal.
  2. PRINCIPAL’S SUSPENSIONS                                                                                                 The principal may suspend a student from school for dangerous or disruptive behavior for 1 to 5 school days. He or she must give the parent written notice of the suspension before the student is removed from class. The principal must also hold a conference with you before your child is suspended. However, a student may be suspended before that conference, if considered a continuing danger to other students, staff, property or an ongoing threat of disruption to the learning process.

NOTE> Due to COVID-19, principal’s suspension conferences may be held remotely unless you ask yours to be held in person. If you do prefer an in-person meeting, the principal must then consult with the borough director of suspension to consider your request.

3. SUPERINTENDENT’S SUSPENSIONS                                                                                            For more serious behavior, the principal may ask the superintendent to                        suspend your child for 6 to 29 school days. In limited situations, the principal              may ask to suspend the student for more than 20 school days. Written notice                must be given to the parent. A hearing will be held within 5 to 10 days of the                suspension at a hearing office.

All other removals from class or school, or threats of removals, are not allowed. The school should not:

  • call you repeatedly to pick your child up early from school
  • tell you to be in school so your child can go to school
  • tell you to find a new school for your child
  • call or threaten to call Child Protective Services on you
  • call the police to handle your child’s behavior unless there is a real emergency
  • send your child to the emergency room unless your child is in immediate danger to themselves or others and only after the school takes the proper steps
  • tell you your child must transfer to another school, unless he or she does not have an IEP[Individualized Education Program] and the school follows certain procedures.

Instead, the school should work with you to address the problems your child is having. Before removing or suspending your child, the school must follow the procedures in the Discipline Code and Chancellor’s Regulations:

The NYC Department of Education Discipline Code
This document lists all the reasons and ways that your child may be disciplined by
their school. You can find the Discipline Codes for Grades K-5 and 6-12 at: https://
www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/rules-for-students/discipline-code

The NYC Department of Education Chancellor’s Regulations
Section A-443 of the Chancellor’s Regulations describes your child’s rights related to school discipline. It also describes special education protections related to discipline.
Section A-411 of the Chancellor’s Regulations describes the NYC Department
of Education’s policy and procedures that schools must follow when a student is in
a behavioral crisis. It discusses intervention, de-escalation, and 911 calls.
Section A-450 of the Chancellor’s Regulations describes the NYC Department of
Education’s policy and procedures that schools must follow when a student is told
they must transfer to another school.

two girls doing school worksDuring a classroom removal or suspension, your child must be given alternate education that meets their individual needs. He or she cannot be punished academically for a removal or suspension and must continue to earn academic credits.

Alternative instruction includes:

  • direct instruction
  • class work
  • homework
  • tests, including citywide and state tests such as Regents exams.

Giving you child worksheets only is not enough. If your child has a disability, they must get education appropriate for their special education needs while suspended, such as services on their IEP or 504 plan, related services or a paraprofessional.

Alternative instruction can take place at your child’s school, a different school or at an Alternative Learning Center[ALC]. If your child does not attend the school assigned for alternative instruction, your child will be marked absent. If you have travel or other concerns, contact the Borough Suspension Director or Principal of the ALC.

spoiled bratFor classroom removals, ask your child’s teacher where your child is getting alternative education and who is giving it to him or her during the removal. If you have any other concerns, talk to the principal. For suspensions, information about the location and hours of instruction should be on your child’s suspension notice.

If your child gets a principal’s suspension, grades K-8 students must get full-time instruction in a room in their school. High school students must get at least 2 hours a day of instruction in a room in their school.

If your child gets a superintendent’s suspension, grades K-5 students must get full-time instruction. Usually, they go to a ‘buddy school’ for alternative instruction.Grades 6-8 must get full-time instruction at an ALC. High school students must get at least 2 hours a day of instruction before the superintendent’s suspension hearing. If still suspended after the hearing, they get full-time instruction at an ALC.

If your child is sent to an ALC, the home school should send all classwork and assignments there. Both work together to make sure your child makes academic progress and smooth transitions from school to school. Both make sure your child gets needed supports.

Last, if the ALC is too far from home or your child feels unsafe, call the Principal at the ALC and the Director of the Borough Suspension Hearing Office. You can ask them to move your child to a different ALC, calling that center to see if they can admit your child. You can also ask that your child is given ample travel time to arrive at the ALC, or that they may return your child to his or her home school. If your child gets busing on the IEP, they must also get busing to the ALC. The home school must ensure that it is in place during the suspension. If not available, he or she returns to the home school until busing is in place.

Ultimately, the students most likely to face discipline at school are black and brown students, in urban or rural settings. The forms of discipline they receive are more harsh in comparison to students in other groups accused of the same or similar infractions. Therefore, it is important that parents know your child’s rights as student, and your rights as parent.women s white dress shirt

Whether in New York City public schools, private or charter school settings, parents must understand the school-specific discipline codes. Always ask questions of the school staff, seeking justification for the consequences imposed on your child. We all want children on their best behaviors, but we want compassion, equity and alternatives to removal. Ask the school to outline all interventions and positive behavioral support strategies utilized- before removal or suspension was considered.

When or if you are called to appear at your child’s school because of a behavior concern, put on your best face-firm but still approachable. Even when you feel anger and frustration, the moment you enter the building or turn on the video for a Zoom conference, contain it. The goal is to get answers, ask questions, listen and spark some form of compromise. The last thing you want is your child’s removal from his classroom or school.

Demonstrating your concern for your child, you want to be given a fully comprehensible and detailed explanation of the situation. If you can provide some insight into your child’s behaviors, do so. Children use behaviors as a means of communication. What is your child communicating? You will want to know what your child needs, feels and what he or she may be experiencing[at home, at school] This could be an attempt to process internally and instead is externalizing. This is particularly true if your child has no history of disruptive behaviors in school. If this is indeed a first time situation, the time is perfect for compromises. Reassure the teacher and/or principal that you will resolve issues at home, and ask that they monitor his or her future behaviors, in partnership with you.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Defend your child and his or her rights at all times, but…..however you discipline your child, and communicate your disappointment, hold it until you are in private. The situation is already embarrassing enough for you both. Wait until you get home. Always, always frame your parent-child conversations in love. Highlight positive traits and qualities.  Education holds the key to your child’s future! What is done today may follow your child into adulthood. The problem is the behavior, not the child. Never let your child forget it! 

 

Talking to Children About Returning to School

Parents everywhere are facing some difficult, yet extremely important decisions concerning their children’s learning format and safety protocols this upcoming school year. Many school districts are and have engaged families in their discussions about the re-opening process. What will formal learning look like when schools are to resume educating children? Will they invite students back into their buildings this fall, or will students learn remotely? Will it be a combination of the two?

The number one concern of schools and parents should not center on their academic progress  without prioritizing health and safety. Let’s face it, schools’ physical design and planning did not designate spaces in which social distancing rules could be easily accommodated. Parents know this and are equally aware that, even if space is re-designed, there is always room for human error.Children and staff still face health risks.

After this period of remote learning, disrupted daily routines and familiar ‘normals’, children must be confused, anxious and possibly ambivalent about re-entering their school buildings. They can sense the tension from the adults and while most children are eager to return to the social component of learning at school, they must look to their caregivers to guide them through it all.

Kids often have a tough time making the transition back to school after any length of time away. Even if it is summer break or COVID-19, we have to give them time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school, while acknowledging that this time it is going to be different. It is important to talk about what worries them and offer support. Validate their concerns, telling them that it is OK to feel worried. After you validate their feelings, move on to strengths. Tell them that it may be hard at first, but it will be fine, and you know that they will get through this. That is much better than telling them that ‘there’s nothing to worry about’. Children don’t buy that anyway. It just communicates to them that the person they turn to for support doesn’t understand or ‘get it’. It will only increase their anxiety.

Focus on the positive things about going back to school. Many times, when parents go shopping for school supplies, they do so without the children being present. Plan this year’s shopping to be done along with the children. Let them be a part of the decision-making as to what supplies are bought. A composition book is a composition book….except when they have different cover designs, and so forth. Let your child personalize and individualize their supplies. Making them an active participant in the process gives them more feelings of control. It makes the transition more real, less scary and encourages their excitement about returning to the classroom.

 

 

Helping Parents Stay Strong During These Times of Uncertainty

If you work with families and parents, you are definitely facing some extraordinary challenges right now in an effort to support their wellness. So many people have lost their incomes and so many others must still go to work amidst this pandemic, while also aware of the health risks- for themselves and their family. Parents have been taking care of the kids at home, taking a more active leadership role in the new remote learning landscape. If their jobs permit it,  some parents have been working from home at the same time.

When parents and caregivers are under stress, children struggle too. Sometimes children feel they do not receive enough attention, placing additional strains on their relationships with their parents and with more stress, if not addressed early,  abuse and neglect can even result. An important way to help families overcome challenges and help them thrive in the midst of adversity and uncertainty is to focus on their strengths. Start with empathy.

It must be understood how often parents may feel unseen, unheard and even powerless during times of crisis. They may feel anonymous, like just another number and that no one cares about their struggles. Many will often suffer in silence, holding in their feelings and choosing not to talk about them at all. Some families are struggling with anxiety or depression due to health and financial fears, social isolation and an overall disruption to their established routines. Others will fear accessing help completely, due to their immigration status and fear of experiencing racial abuses because they are either Asian-Americans or African-American.

child sipping from pipe graffiti

 

Ask strengths-based questions. Questions like, “How have you gotten through tough times in the past?” A way to help parents tap into their past memories and recall effective strategies, asks them to identify their existing strengths and call upon them in these times. Because they made it through difficulties in the past, even though they may have been different than now, lets them also know that you see them as capable person[s], who can still take pride in problem-solving for the family.

To avoid giving any advice that may not be relevant to the parent or their current situation, ask open-ended questions about their current challenges. You will know more about what they’ve tried already and what works or does not work for them. Ask about the people they can rely on, and who or what inspires and motivates them to get through a challenge. The answers will help them see their own strengths and builds their sense of hope.

Provide perspective and information. Once you’ve demonstrated empathy and asked questions that help them recall their strengths, you can provide some useful information and the concrete assistance they need. Many parents may be unaware of the types of supports and services available to them and how to access them. This is especially true at times when things change very rapidly. Share up-to-date information or know where to look for it.

This is also your opportunity to help the parent take a step back and re-gain perspective that’s hard to hold on to when we are overwhelmed. Helping them understand that their child’s behavior is usually age-appropriate during this crisis, and to realize that they are not alone in their struggles are encouraging to building parents’ resilience. Encourage parents to stay connected with others-maintain their social network, those built-in supports. Forced isolation can intensify emotions at this time, and increases risk for depression and hopelessness, which may impact a child’s feelings as well. Remind parents that there are alternative ways in which to engage and stay connected to friends and family.

Strategize, coach and celebrate success. If your interactions with parents allow, you may help them come up with some strategies to solve the challenges they face. Coach and mentor them as they carry out these strategies. Include in the plans, a what if strategy-things they can do if they don’t succeed the first time. Also, celebrate their successes, no matter how small. These, too, are signs of progress. Engaging parents in this way, will help them use and continue to build on the strengths they possess and be better equipped to meet the next challenges they face-whether you are with them or not.

These tips for helping parents apply equally well whether you are acting as a friend or professional.   Focusing on the strengths others possess, even when they don’t realize they do exist, serves to increase their capacity to meet and triumph over challenges and helps them believe that “this too shall pass”.  When you can help parents develop strategies for coping, they are likely to be more productive and positive. And, their actions are less likely to demonstrate misplaced anger, which can be harmful to their children and themselves. Children will grow up in stronger families and grow to be stronger, more self-confident, feeling safe and loved within their family. This is what they will take with them out into the world. “This too shall pass!”