How to Talk to Kids About Violence
High profile incidents of school violence often make headlines for days or even weeks at a time. Once the news cycle has expired, however, these incidents are often forgotten or at least put out of mind by men, women and children who were not directly affected.
But what happens when students witness a violent event? According to a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focusing on youth violence, 17.5 percent of a nationally representative sample of youths in grades 9 to 12 reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife or club) on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey, and 5.9 percent reported carrying a gun on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey.
Parents of students who witnessed violence, be it at school or outside of school, are often left wondering how to talk to their children about a violent incident. The National Association of School Psychologists offers the following tips for parents and teachers left with the difficult task of discussing violence with children.
* Reassure kids they are safe. Many children feel they aren't safe after witnessing a violent event. Parents and teachers should emphasize to kids that they are safe while encouraging them to talk about their feelings. When kids discuss their feelings, parents and teachers can help put those feelings in perspective and help kids express these feelings in an appropriate manner.
* Make time to talk. Parents and teachers must be patient with children who have recently witnessed violence. Children are not always ready to talk about their feelings right away, and parents and teachers should let kids' questions guide the discussion.
* Keep explanations developmentally appropriate. How violence is discussed with children depends on the child's age. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their schools and homes are safe and adults are there to protect them. Upper elementary school and middle school children will be more vocal about their safety and what is being done to prevent further incidents.
Discuss any efforts being made to make the community safer. Upper middle school and high school students are likely to have strong opinions about what happened and why. Emphasize the importance of explaining these opinions to school administrators and the role kids play in making their school and society safer.
* Review safety procedures at school and at home. This should include helping children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they can go if they feel threatened.
* Be observant of a child's emotional state. Some kids won't verbally express their concerns about a violent incident. Behavioral changes, including changes in appetite and sleep patterns, could indicate anxiety or discomfort. Be as observant of a child's emotional state as possible.
* Limit exposure to media coverage of the event. Not all media coverage of the event is appropriate for children, especially those who experienced it firsthand.