Civil rights protests are being held nationwide, and kids of all ages are attending despite the dangers.
In June, I took my newborn and toddler to a protest for Black Lives Matter. I felt it was important that I go and show support. I felt it was important that my white partner go and stand up for what is right. My family being part of history and of change is worth the risks, especially when those risks can be mitigated.
Admittedly, the gathering was small. I do live out in the sticks, so there wasn’t much to worry about in the way of crowds or violence. However, we do plan to go to the large protest in the capital in August because it is important.
Not only do I need to protect my children against the usual outdoor issues like sunburn or heat exhaustion, but we now have the issue of coronavirus and rioting/police violence. How have I prepared?
The Easy Stuff
Bring sunscreen, water, hats and a stroller
Make sure your kids are able to stay hydrated and have a place to lie down to rest or nap. Larger protests usually have medic areas where water can be located if you run out.
Let your kids make their own signs
Obviously, check what they write before you bring it. Your child will be more apt to carry or hold a message if they made it themselves. Do not force them to make or hold one. A protest can be a learning experience, but it can also be daunting at first.
Dress light, bring layers
If you are worried about rain or a breeze, tuck an umbrella or jacket into the bottom of the stroller.
Let your kids interact on social media
If their way of raising awareness or participation is via social media, let them connect while you are there. As long as the posts are respectful, let them share their opinions, even if they differ from yours.
The Medium Stuff
Pick a meeting spot
If your children are old enough, pick a meeting spot or location where they can find you if you get separated. Make sure it is specific and visible to their shorter stature. Visit the spot with them.
Pick a meeting time
If you do get separated and they can tell time, pick a time that they should contact help. If something has happened to you, you don’t want them to wait all night. Pick a time that they should reach out to someone else if you have not arrived at the meeting spot. They should know who and how to contact someone to get them. Ideally, someone not at the protest. Even a trusted friend out-of-state can give advice on where to go for help, can remotely order a Lyft or can book a hotel room for a teenager.
Give them a phone
If they can operate your cell phone to watch videos, they can learn to operate a phone to call you for emergencies. Just make sure they know it is only for emergencies. Bring portable (and charged) chargers just in case. If they are too small to be responsible, write your phone number on their arm in permanent marker.
Not all police are bad
If the worst happens, let your child know they can go to the police or child protective services. The protests aren’t about hate, they are about equality. Make sure your child knows how to contact someone at home so they can relay that person’s information to officials. Tell your child to try to find an officer that is not at the protest or to go directly to a police station or government building and stay in sight of cameras.
The Hard Stuff
Do not overpack
If things get rough, be prepared to grab and go. This means ditching the stroller and anything in it, dropping the signs, and taking only your kids and the clothes on your backs. That means picking up young kids and carrying them. If you cannot do this, I would not recommend going to a large protest or march.
I do not recommend practicing in the event of a riot. While it could be beneficial like shooter drills at school or home fire plans, I think the likelihood is low, the potential for trauma is high, and the potential a child may misunderstand and play “runaway” in the crowd is also high.
Practice physical distancing and mask-wearing. If your children are old enough, have them wear a mask and sunglasses. If you have an infant or toddler, use a baby carrier with a breathable sunshade or a covering over a car seat. Bring hand sanitizer.
Use your best judgment
If you start to feel unsafe, go home. If your kids won’t wear a mask, if you feel it is too crowded, if you see officer numbers increase, if the sun goes down, if your spidey sense is tingling, leave.
Explain the risk and the reason
In terms appropriate for their age level, explain why you are going and what they may see there. If they are old enough to stay home alone, let them decide if they want to go.
Remember: you don’t have to stay the whole time. You don’t have to stay at all. Here are some options instead of having your kids participate in your city’s protest:
Stop by to donate water or food.
Educate your children on the issue and let them speak and ask questions to people of color.
Have your family set up its own protest in your yard and invite neighbors or friends.
Encourage them to write letters or emails to their local representatives.
Take them to a town hall. Let them prepare a speech if they want.
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.