School violence and threats of violence are scary and seem to be happening more and more frequently, but the fortunate reality is that they remain rare. I’m almost telling myself this like a chant — trying to keep myself centered. Because like many other parents I’ve talked to, instead of worrying about my son getting lice at school I kiss him good-bye and say a blessing for safety. Happened today again.
2015 has been hard for all of us in this respect. The increased media discussions about violence are shaking us up and focusing light on violence, especially from guns and mass shootings, in ways no one ever wanted or could imagine.
Although mass shootings are dreadfully more common now than in the past, the rate of crime at U.S. schools that involve physical harm has been declining since the early 1990s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 1% of all homicides among school-age children happen on school grounds or on the way to and from school. The vast majority of students will never experience violence at school or in college.
Still, it’s natural for kids and teens (and those who adore them, feverishly) to worry about whether something may happen to them. To help them deal with these fears, it’s important to talk to children who are in the know when these tragedies happen, and to know what your kids watch or hear about them. This helps put frightening information into context. This helps build trust.
Children should be informed about a disaster as soon as information becomes available. Children can sense when critical information is being withheld and when trusted adults are not being genuine; this, in turn, undermines their trust and sense of safety and compromises the ability of these adults to be later viewed as a source of support and assistance. Even very young children or those with developmental disabilities can sense the distress of trusted adults. Children also often overhear or otherwise learn information about the events, such as through the Internet or social media or from conversations with other children. We probably need to shift the conversation sometimes away from talking our children out of having legitimate concerns to how do you deal with your concerns.” ~Dr. David Schonfeld
8 Tips To Support Your Children’s Understanding Of School Violence
- Keeping perspective and cool. Hearing about events like LA Public Schools lockdown, the horrific Newtown shooting fresh in our mind at the 3-year anniversary and the Marysville-Pilchuck shootings here locally makes us feel increasingly vulnerable. Today in the hospital I talked with a mom who told me just last week her child had a lockdown at their school. Because many of our children do school “lockdown drills” this is becoming a part of all of our lives. Perception gets skewed in this awareness and preparation. Acknowledge this feeling and ask your children about how they feel. Check yourself that you’re listening more than you’re talking. Many children just want a sounding board and need time to process. These big conversations are just as important as little ones they want to have so when possible let your child lead the way.
- Discuss current events with your kids on a regular basis. It’s important to help them think through stories they hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? Such questions also encourage conversation about non-news topics.
- Use age appropriate explanations but answer questions candidly. Let you children understand as much as they inquire. However, some children really won’t want to talk about it. They may rather be children. Give them the space to avoid the news and return to play.
- Balance with news. There is a balance of providing information to our children and also protecting them from this news. Don’t ignore what they are learning on TV or online. Demonstrate your love and talk about your goals to provide security at every turn.
- Children who have suffered acts of violence or loss may take this harder. Be aware of this and reach out for support if you feel your child is more vulnerable to this news. Many children have suffered after abusive conversations, witnessing violence in public, or witnessing violence at home. Children are very resilient and will cope well if you provide support, offering up conversation with a sense of openness.
- You’re always modeling your feelings, part of the high-stakes reality in parenting. Our children sense remakably well. Do your best to steady yourself and your fears privately before chatting with your children. Watch what you say, how you respond (as best you can), and how you inquire about what has happened. Children will intently follow your response and learn about how to cope as they witness your reactions.
- If you know anyone exposed to violence or involved in the lockdown today, shower them with love, unexpected support, and maintain a network of compassion for victims and their families as they mourn now and in the coming months and years. Your actions today and for years to come can change lives.
- Opting out of news. Remember the power of turning off the phone, your social networking inboxes and your television. You don’t have to go into a black-out but you also don’t need the news streaming all day. Compartmentalization is key — today more than ever.
Quick Age-Based Tips For Conversations:
- Often before age 7 or 8 years, children have a difficult time teasing out reality versus fantasy
- Keep information simple and brief
- No need to introduce information if they don’t know but be aware they learn A LOT on the bus and in the school lunch line
- Need help distinguishing reality from fantasy — keep clarifying and putting the risks (LOW) in perspective
- Children will be very curious about their personal safety; tweens and teens may ask more questions about safety
- Give simple, honest answers. We have to do our best not to make promises we can’t keep
- Know reality from fantasy — still need help staying away from the drama of these days
- Can be easy to distort reality during events like this
- May form strong opinions about violence in schools — this is where listening is key
- Emphasize their own role and your role in maintaining safety (safe gun storage at home, gun-free campuses, training in school for protection)
Helpful Resources For Parents:
- Providing Psychosocial Support For Children And Families After Disasters and Crises From Dr. Schonfeld (for pediatricians, family docs, nurses, social workers, and parents)
- Seattle Children’s Hospital Tips
- Seattle Mama Doc
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