COLUMBUS (WCMH) – While adults grapple with recent violence and unrest in Central Ohio and around the country, mental health advocates encourage parents to monitor the toll it’s taking on children.
“Whether they’re coming to us or not, chances are they’re hearing about it,” explained Dr. Parker Huston, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and director of the On Our Sleeves program. “I’d suggest not waiting for them to come to us with questions, but trying to initiate a conversation.”
Tuesday afternoon, a Minneapolis jury delivered a guilty verdict for the former police officer who killed George Floyd in the summer of 2020.
The same day, a Columbus teenager died and another was arrested for murder charges after the 15-year-olds exchanged gunfire. Within the hour, a Columbus police officer fatally shot 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant while responding to a fight and reported stabbing in an east side neighborhood.
The subsequent events triggered celebration, followed by outrage and demonstrations in downtown Columbus.
Dr. Huston explained the whiplash of violence and unrest may compound the stressors from the previous year.
“Everyone is in a stressed mental state right now… and some more than others,” he said. “We can work in small ways to try to improve kids’ mental health and well-being.”
He recommended parents ask your children what they’ve already seen and heard and answer any questions in an honest and age-appropriate way.
“If we don’t try and share things in a way that creates a whole story in their minds, they’re going to fill in those pieces that may or may not be accurate and troublesome,” he said.
The way you approach your family discussions will likely depend on your children’s ages and your family’s personal experiences.
“The biggest question we hear from kids at lots of different ages is about the impact on their own community. ‘Is this something that could happen to me? Is this something that could happen in our neighborhood? Is it something that could happen to our family?’” Dr. Huston said. “And how you choose to answer that is really probably tailored to where you live and what your family history is.”
He added it’s also important to monitor what’s not being said. You can often spot signs of mental and emotional distress if you see changes in mood, attitude and behavior. If you see anything concerning, you should reach out for professional help.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health. I think the two can’t be separated,” Dr. Huston said.
Here are resources from the On Our Sleeves program for addressing your child’s mental health:
–How to start a conversation about mental health:
-How to support your child’s mental health needs:
-How to address culture and race:
-Kids and race-related violence:
-On Our Sleeves Advocacy Toolkit: