No parent wants to have to talk with his/her child about violence, yet it is an unfortunate reality in our world today. Between the Newton, Connecticut school shooting in late 2012 and the Troutdale, Oregon school shooting in June 2014, there were 74 reported school shootings in the United States. When school violence occurs, it is important for parents to communicate openly and in an age-appropriate way with their children to restore their 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 and at sports practice -- you can do your part as a parent to make sure your own children receive important information from the people they trust the most: you. 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 very literal way so that they can understand how to express their own emotions. Sentences such as, "I was so frightened that I felt like my stomach dropped, the way you feel in an elevator," help 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 see 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 this listening and exchange 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 the adult role, and that means being reliable and empathetic and instilling a sense of calm and protection with 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, 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, they will learn to trust you, trust themselves, and they will feel more secure with their outer world.