Linda Lewis Griffith

Talking to kids about violence

We’re all horrified by Friday’s senseless school shootings. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of the random destruction, of the devastation of so many young lives.

Children are particularly vulnerable to these events, especially when they identify with the ages and life stages of the victims. 

Parents are the first responders in helping youngsters cope with and recover from the news of violence. The National Association of School Psychologists offers these suggestions:

Reassure children that they are safe.

Boys and girls naturally fear that the violence can happen to them. Validate their feelings. Let them know it’s normal to be sad and frightened by what they see and hear. Tell them you and the school staff are doing their best to protect them. Remind them that they are not in danger. 

Keep explanations developmentally appropriate.

Elementary-age children need brief, simple information that is balanced with reassurance that they are safe. Give simple examples of safety measures at school, such as locking exterior doors or having safety monitors on the playground.

Upper elementary and early middle school children will ask more questions about their own safety and what’s being done to protect them. They may need assistance separating reality from rumor or fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide for their safety when they’re at school. 

Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They’re likely to make suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies from happening in the future. 

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 they can go to if they feel threatened or at risk.

Observe your child’s emotional state.

Some boys and girls may not verbalize their concerns. Watch for changes in behavior, appetite and sleep patterns that indicate their level of discomfort. Most children will feel better with ample reassurance and the passage of time. Others who are inherently more fearful or who have experienced past trauma or personal loss may have more intense reactions. Seek professional help if you are concerned.

Limit the amount of exposure to the event.

Turn off the television when children are present and be mindful of your own conversations about the event. 

Maintain a normal routine.

Regular schedules are both calming and healing. Make sure youngsters eat regular meals and get plenty of rest. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.