The Women’s March on Washington and other protests happening this weekend will be the first time many families attend a rally. Olivia Higgins, founder of Queerly Elementary, and other parents have 11 tips to help families navigate the process of attending a protest.
1. Explain why you are protesting.
Discuss your family values with your children and how these are motivating you to attend the march. Many marches or demonstrations have written mission statements that can be used to frame your discussion. Focus on what you are marching for instead of what you are marching against. Saying, “We are demonstrating against unjust wars,” can be turned into, “We are marching because we believe in peace.” Marching for a cause may make children feel more connected to the goals of the march. Bear in mind that children often misunderstand what they hear and take things literally. If a child hears, “We must fight against this injustice,” they may think they are preparing for a physical fight. Saying that “we are marching for justice” is empowering and not frightening.
2. Create child-friendly signs.
Help your children think of appropriate slogans and consider making signs with slogans to which children can relate. A simple peace sign or simply “Be Kind” can keep your signs on-message and age-appropriate. Encourage your child to design their own sign to feel more involved and create excitement about attending the protest. Wooden paint stirrers that can be found at your local hardware store are the perfect size for little hands. Mount your card stock sign securely to the paint stirrer with duct tape and hold a practice march around the block. Most children will not hold a sign for very long, so be prepared.
3. Plan for children’s needs.
Have everyone in your group use the bathroom before the protest begins and bring water, snacks, and sunscreen. Dress for the weather and wear layers. Children may start off a bit cold but warm up quickly once they start walking. Backpacks work well so your hands will be free.
4. Bring cash.
Large crowds frequently bring out small mobile vendors who are selling trinkets, water, snacks, and anything else you can imagine. Many times, they only take cash. If the march you are attending will take you far from your starting point, you may also want cash to take a taxi, bus, or public transportation back.
5. Sit back and watch.
If a child is getting tired or overstimulated, move to the side, take a seat, and watch the other marchers for a few minutes. If you are unable to remove yourself from the situation, have your child focus on something they can control: watch people’s feet as we walk by, sing a song together, find something to count, etc. Also, know that participating in a march doesn’t always require marching. You may also find a great deal of inspiration, humor, and excitement through people watching. If you think your child may not have the endurance to complete the entire march, consider attending just the beginning or end. Your presence will still be noted and appreciated!
6. Check in with your child.
Ask open-ended questions that allow for a broad response before, during, and after the event. Some questions you may want to ask are: What was the most memorable part of the day? What surprised you? What questions do you have? Sharing your own thoughts and observations will encourage your child to do the same. Also, because many children process information over time, they may have questions, observations, and concerns a week or two after the event. Remember to check in with other adults so you can decompress and get their impressions of the march as well.
7. Wear matching outfits, T-shirts, or hats.
Wearing matching clothing will help you easily identify the members of your group, especially if you are unexpectedly separated. Dressing children in brightly colored clothing can help you identify them more easily in a crowd.
8. Know when to leave.
Remove your family from the event the moment you start feeling as though the mood of the protest is heading in a direction that is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Don’t wait to see what will happen. Go with your instinct. If you are with children, do not engage if you are faced with direct opposition — keep calm and move away from the situation.
9. Plan for separation.
Have a clear plan for what to do if you become separated from your child. Plans might including finding a police officer or official safety volunteer, going into a store to speak with an employee in a uniform, or going into a fire station. Children should have two reliable numbers memorized or easily accessible, such as tucked away in a pocket. One of those should be the landline of someone not at the march in case cell service is interrupted. Instead of paper, you can also write the numbers on your child’s arm with a Sharpie.
10. Sometimes it is better not to take the children.
If you think the march will be too much for your child, if you think it could turn violent, or if you are so passionate about the cause that you might not be able to parent your child effectively, you may decide not to take your child. Something to keep in mind is that march organizers sometimes also plan for child care.
11. Be prepared.
Many marches provide a schedule of events, details or maps of the march route, and other important information. Familiarize yourself with official plans so you can be flexible. Some marches may have safety guidelines about the types signs or size of bags that are permitted, and it’s helpful to know about these in advance.
By bringing your children to a protest you are helping to shape them into involved, concerned, civic-minded citizens. And with a little preparation, there is no reason why children can’t join adults in having their voices heard. Now has never been a better time.