How to Talk With Your Child About School Violence
This week I’ve been talking with my children about school violence. School violence is not an easy topic but after what happened just four few days ago, it is a topic that needs to be discussed in our home. I think it’s a topic that is struggled with in many homes.
Earlier this week something happened that shook me to my mom core and if I’m honest, still bothers me this morning just a few days later. I talked about the incident a little bit in this blog post here and wanted to expand on the conversation this morning.
Last week a 12-year-old boy brought a loaded .22 caliber gun to one of our area middle schools.
The news of a junior high boy bringing a loaded gun to school has shaken our community. You never think it will happen in your hometown until it does. Thankfully no one was hurt, the gun was never fired and the boy has been arrested and authorities are getting to the bottom of all of it.
I don’t want to get into the whole gun debate because quite honestly I don’t have the stamina for it this morning. I personally believe in our second amendment right to bear arms and am driven totally bonkers by gun owners who are not responsible in how they store their firearms. I mean really people what the hell is wrong with you?
SEE! I told you I’d just get fired up on the topic and can’t write about it just yet. Perhaps in the near future.
What I want to focus on today is how to talk to your kids about school violence. It can be a sensitive subject. Let’s face it, if done incorrectly it can turn your loving happy go lucky child into an anxiety-riddled phobic scared to go to school or public places. That is a lot of pressure for a parent!
WHAT TO DO RIGHT AFTER AN EVENT
Make time to listen
If your child has seen an encounter of school violence on the news or heard about one in your community, give them time to process their own feelings and make time to listen to those feelings. Often times we want to swoop in and make everything alright for our kids when in reality they just need someone to listen. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or other chores.
Younger children may need prompts to help begin talking about their emotions and express their feelings over school violence events. These prompts can include drawing, looking at picture books or imaginative play.
Observe your child
Some children may not express their concerns verbally about school violence. So be on the lookout for changes in appetite, behavior, interests, school performance and sleep patterns. Changes in any or all of these areas may indicate stress and anxiety in your child.
In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. Kids are quite resilient. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions especially if they have already experienced a past trauma, loss or depression.
Remember that every child will respond to trauma differently. Some will have no side effects; others may suffer immediate and acute effects. Still, others may not show signs of stress until some time after the event.
Limit television viewing of events
You may think it’s harmless to have the television on and sharing the news events with your child but it can have negative effects, especially with younger children. According to the American Psychological Association, “research has shown that some young children believe that the events are reoccurring each time they see a television replay of the news footage.”
Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children but also adolescents and teenagers.
Adults also need to be mindful of the conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers. It’s wise to limit exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas of the home.
Maintain a normal routine
Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and comforting. It also promotes physical and mental health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, are eating regularly plus exercise and play. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
HOW TO TALK WITH YOUR CHILD ABOUT SCHOOL VIOLENCE
Keep the conversation age appropriate
When you do engage in conversation with your child it’s important to keep it age appropriate so that your child is getting the most out of it.
Early elementary school children need simple information. Keep it brief, light and upbeat. Be sure to reassure them that school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety measures in place at their school such as exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about their safety and school procedures. They will be more likely to question whether or not they truly are safe. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss the efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines and communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, as well as getting support for emotional needs.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children About School Violence
The National Association of School Psychologists suggests these points to emphasize when talking to children about school violence.
- Schools are safe places. School staff works with parents and public safety providers such as police and fire rescue to keep you safe.
- The school building is safe. Talk about school procedures.
- We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
- There is a difference between reporting, and tattling or gossiping. Remind your child that he can provide important information which may prevent harm to another individual simply by telling a grown-up what they observed or witnessed.
- Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect you.
- Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Don’t dwell on it too much or try to figure out why some people do what they do. That is a lot for a child to take on.
- Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people the help they need and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
- Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.
- Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.
Do you have tips to share? Comment below and let us know how you are keeping your children safe.
National Association of School Psychologists
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America