Talking to Kids About Protesting: 5 Things I Want My Kids to Know


As the protests continue in Charlotte, NC we are seeing the familiar and racially biased messages about protesting surface again. Many have critiqued our media reporting and our national conversation on protesting, pointing out the disparities in language and escalation tactics that are used depending upon the race of the protestors. As a parent, I’m particularly mindful of the potency of the words and images that are widely shared at a time like this. They are impossible to escape.


Instead of shielding my children from or ignoring these images and conversations I seek to both:

Point out that the way these protestors are treated and talked about is different because of the color of their skin AND expand our conversation and narrative about the act of protesting.                                                 

Here are the things that I want my kids to know:

1. Protesting is a protected right. The Bill of Rights, written in 1789, grants Americans many important rights, which have come to define our nation and anchor some of our shared national values. Protesting is a reflection of two of those important rights: the right to “peaceably assemble” and the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

2. Protesting is an American tradition. It can be traced back to the beginning of our country’s history and is responsible for our very formation. A notable early protest example is The Boston Tea Party in 1773. Protesting has been a primary and critical way that Americans have stood up against injustice and unfair treatment since our country’s inception.

3. There are examples of protest all over in history AND in the present day. Depending on where you live your children may have the opportunity to witness protests with great frequency and on behalf of a wide variety of issues. Can you imagine how many protests kids living in Washington D.C. observe?! In other locations protestors might be more easily coupled with a particular incident or issue.

In the latter case, children’s books and media provide a great opportunity to expand the narrative on protests and the gains that have been achieved as a result of this important tradition. We have included some book suggestions below.

You may choose to incorporate other recent examples of protests into your conversations with your children, including:

* Colin Kaepernick (and those following him) who is protesting by declining to stand during that national anthem.

* The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and the others that joined) protesting the oil pipeline that would cross tribal land. You can use the #noDAPL tag to find images and conversations about this.

4. Debates about the lawfulness and effectiveness of protesting have always existed. It is also important to acknowledge that opinions on the lawfulness and effectiveness of civil disobedience aren’t new. People have long-opposed protest efforts that have brought our country to where we are today, and expanded rights for many Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. was not popular during his time. The same narrative about whether protesting is the “right thing to do” exists now as it did when people organized for voting rights, improved working conditions, civil rights, etc. That is important to acknowledge because it can otherwise be easy to give kids the false impression that protests of the past were justified but those of today are uniquely complicated and fraught.

5. We have benefited from the act of protest. It is also worthwhile to think about how your particular family and ancestors have participated in or benefited from protest movements in the past or in the present.

Our children are watching and listening. Please consider using this as an opportunity for expanding this important conversation.

Recommended Reading:

We March

A Sweet Smell of Roses   


Freedom Summer

Ron’s Big Mission    

Seeds of Freedom


Separate is Never Equal

Lillian’s Right to Vote  

The Youngest Marcher (coming soon)

Counting on Community

Brave Girl     

Click Clack Moo

Harvesting Hope

Elizabeth Leads the Way  * Please note, and share with children, that this book does not make mention that her efforts were on behalf of white women, and that women of color did not receive the right to vote until up to 45 years later.


** I am always looking for books that depict other US protests that are not biased and do not reinforce a problematic and incomplete narrative. If you have other suggestions, please let me know. **

** If you live in St. Lous, MO, these books and more can be found at The Novel Neighbor, St. Louis County Library branches, and The Kirkwood Public Library **