Talking to Children About Violence

The recent school shootings in Connecticut have shaken young and old alike, leaving parents wondering how best to help their children cope.

Aimee Jennings, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and coordinator of the CHILL mental health counseling program in local schools, says it is a good idea to let kids talk about the incident and their related fears as much as possible and to give age-appropriate answers to their questions.

It also is a good idea try to maintain a sense of normalcy in the family routine and to limit TV coverage of the shootings.  When young children see the story covered over and over again on TV, they may not understand that these are reruns. They may think more incidents are occurring, Ms. Jennings explained.

It is important to check in with children to see how they are doing, and then it is good to let it go and not dwell on the subject, she said.

Here are some other tips included on a tip sheet, “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers,” prepared by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)  and sent home to families by many schools:

1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

2. Make time to talk and keep explanations age appropriate. For example:

• Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them.

• Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

• Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

3. Review safety procedures.

To read more tips, and for more information on related topics, go to the NASP website at http://www.nasponline.org/

You can also contact the CHILL counselor at your child’s school. To learn more about CHILL–and to find out the name of the counselor at your child’s school–go to the “About CYI” tab at the top of the page and click on “CHILL.”