Talking to children about violence: Tips for parents and teachers

Ponca City Now - March 1, 2018 3:40 pm

High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may
feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for
information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel
safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate
their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk
about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these
feelings appropriately.
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to
provide. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily.
Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the
dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as
an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture
books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.
3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
• Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be
balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are
there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children
about 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 whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school.
They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss 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 (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on
campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community
members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators,
and accessing support for emotional needs.
4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and
at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom
they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns
verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level
of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and
time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have
had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental
illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek
the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the
television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause
anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the
content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even
teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be
7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and
promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and
exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but
don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children
• Schools are safe places. School staff works with parents and public safety providers (local
police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
• The school building is safe because … (cite specific 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, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important
information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult
what you know or hear.
• 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 probability that it will affect you (our school community).
• Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking
to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep
us from worrying about the event.
• 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
help 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.
NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence
prevention, children’s trauma reactions, and crisis response at
©2016, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway #402,
Bethesda, MD 20814


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