When school violence occurs, it is important for parents to communicate openly, in an age-appropriate way, with their children to restore feelings of comfort, safety, and security.
While it is difficult to shield your children from the chatter and speculation that occurs within your community – the conversations that they may overhear at school, with friends, at sports – you can do your part as a parent to make sure your own children receive the most important information from the people they trust…their parents. During uncertain times such as immediately after an incidence of violence, it is vital that you maintain trust with your child. This begins with being honest with them and giving age-appropriate, clear, and real information.
Here are some tips on how to talk with your children about school violence:
- Reassure your children to restore feelings of safety and security. Explain that this situation is rare and that schools are taking precautions to see that this never happens again.
- Help your children learn how to express their feelings. Some children, especially younger children, may not know how to do so yet. Therefore, it can be helpful for children to hear parents describe their own feelings in a literal way, so that they can understand how to express their emotions. A sentence such as “I was so frightened that I felt my stomach drop,” helps describe feelings literally.
- Monitor your children’s media exposure. This includes not only limiting their exposure to news coverage, but also to television shows, movies, and video games that may contain violence. Younger children, in particular, may not be able to process what they are seeing on the screen as separate from real life. And whenever possible, view media with your children so you can explain what they are seeing and hearing.
- Engage in my empathic process. Through listening and exchanging of feelings, children and parents reconnect. Never discount your children’s feelings, and be very generous with your hugs.
- Do not burden your children with your own fears. Now is the time to act in your adult role, and that means being reliable, empathetic, and instilling a sense of calm and protection in your children.
Finally, after engaging in open and honest conversations with your child, it is critical that you pay attention to your child and look for signs of change so that you know how to intervene and remediate. Watch for signs of stress such as loss of appetite, unusual aggression or withdrawal, irritability, regressive behavior, and lack of sleep.
Securing your child’s trust during times of uncertainty is important, and trust is based on experience. If you reach out to your children and maintain open lines of communication with them, learn to trust you, trust themselves, and feel more secure with their outer world.