Right now it’s a difficult time to be in a school – almost everyone in the school community is experiencing fear about safety. While fear can create anxiety and worry, it’s important to remember that fear propels action. One of the first actions a parent can take is to talk to their children. Having a conversation about something as difficult as school violence can be daunting, but the chances are pretty good that your child has already heard others in their environment talking about the same thing. Before having that conversation, we recommend looking at your own feelings and attitudes first. If you don’t acknowledge – at least to yourself – what your feelings are, there’s a good chance they may get in the way of your ability to listen to your child. There’s also a chance that your child may pick up on your fears. Here are some talking points parents can utilize when talking to their children about school violence:
- Set aside time to talk.
- Begin by asking what your children have already heard about the incident. Listen and don’t try to immediately correct misinformation.
- If your children are reporting gossip or rumors, explain that rumors are often created when we lack accurate information, so we have to be very careful about believing everything we hear.
- Explain that sometimes people get very scared by violence, even if it happens someplace else. Ask them if they are feeling scared or having other feelings that are hard to understand or talk about. Be patient with them since feelings can sometimes be hard to put into words.
- Try to remain age appropriate during the conversation. Use terms your child will understand, and take your time talking about it. If they seem confused by what you are saying, explain that even adults struggle sometimes talking about things that are difficult. Check with them by asking if they ‘get’ what you are saying.
- Remind your children you have a community of very capable, public safety providers designated to keep your school and community safe.
- Help your child identify a trusted adult in their life other than yourself. Someone they can tell if they hear, read, or see something from a peer that may be suspicious or frightening. By letting your child know that telling about something like that is not “snitching” you are fostering help-seeking skills.
- Encourage your child to take responsibility to reach out to that trusted adult if they see or hear something that concerns them. Hoping that someone else will say something can be dangerous.
- Limit time watching news reports, reading articles and social media posts regarding school violence events because repeated viewing has the tendency to retraumatize us over again.
- Know where to go for help, both for yourself and for your child. In-school resources are often the best referral source for children. Community agencies may offer trauma-related support services and are usually staffed with professionals who have had training in disaster response and recovery.
- Remind your children (and yourself!) that although school violence is very scary, it is a very rare event. When it does happen, it helps us learn better ways to keep children in all the schools in our country safer.
- Finally, remind your children that everyone has a role to play in school safety, even them. Encourage them to share their ideas for increased school safety with the appropriate people in their school, or to tell you and you will make sure their ideas get to the right people.
Additional resources that can be helpful:
SPTS Resources for Parents: https://sptsusa.org/parents/
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: https://www.nctsn.org
Rutgers Today Article: https://news.rutgers.edu/qa/how-talk-kids-about-traumatic-events/20160921#.Wo409ainFPZ