After violent events, parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their feelings.

  • Reassure children that they are safe.
    • Emphasize that schools are safe
    • Validate children’s feelings by explaining that all feelings are normal when a tragedy occurs
    • Let children talk about their feelings, help them put their feelings in perspective, and help them express their feelings appropriately
  • Spend time with your kids and make time to talk.
    • Let children’s questions guide you about how much information to provide
    • Be patient and watch for clues that children want to talk such as hovering when you do chores, telling stories about things that scare them, asking more questions than usual
    • Encourage children and adolescents to write, play music, or do an art project as an outlet if they prefer activity to talking
    • Engage young children in concrete activities such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play to help them identify with and express their feelings
  • Keep your explanations age appropriate.
    • Give young children brief, simple information that is balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them
    • Give simple examples of routine school safety such as exterior doors being locked, teachers and aides monitoring kids on the playground, and emergency drills
  • Review safety procedures and safeguards at school and home.
    • Help children identify at least one adult at school and one adult in the community to whom they should go if they feel threatened
  • Observe children’s habits and behaviors.
    • Watch for changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns that might indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, symptoms will ease with reassurance and time
    • Be aware that children who have experienced something traumatic and those with depression, mental illness, or other special needs might have more severe reactions to violent events compared with other children
    • Have children talk with a mental health professional if symptoms persist or behaviors are concerning
  • Limit television and conversation about traumatic events.
    • Don’t let young children watch the news to avoid unnecessary anxiety and confusion
    • When you’re with children and teens, keep the content of your conversations with other adults appropriate for everyone who is listening
    • Limit children and adolescents’ exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments they might misunderstand
  • Maintain a normal routine.
    • Keep a regular schedule to reassure children their lives are continuing normally
    • Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise to promote physical and mental health
    • Encourage children to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities
    • Don’t push children to do too many activities if they seem overwhelmed
  • Don’t dwell on worst possibilities.
    • Although there’s no guarantee nothing bad will ever happen, emphasize how rare it is that bad things happen
    • Make a list of all the things going right in your child’s life and in your life; when compared with what is not going right, the list of things going right will likely be much longer
  • Do things you and your children enjoy.
    • Visit with friends and family
    • Engage in pleasureable activities such as walking the dog, playing a game, and cooking together
  • Emphasize compassion and empathy toward everyone, including those with mental and physical disabilities.
    • Explain to children that some people have disabilities, including the inability to handle anger appropriately, drug and alcohol dependence, and other mental illnesses that affect their behavior
    • Emphasize that people with disabilities of any kind should not be the object of ridicule or hate
    • Don’t gossip about other parents’ approaches to child rearing, especially in front of your children and teens; explain to your children that each of us has a big enough job doing the right thing ourselves and parenting our own children
    • Reassure children that adults, including parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, and faith leaders often get people with special needs help to keep them from hurting themselves and others
    • Emphasize how important it is for each of us to get help if we feel very upset or angry
  • Emphasize the importance of avoiding recreational drugs and underage drinking.
    • Explain that drugs and alcohol change how we think and act
  • Tell children to never touch a gun or weapon.
    • Encourage them to tell an adult if they know someone has a gun
  • Emphasize that violence is never a solution for personal problems.
    • Let children know they can help keep themselves and others safe by participating in antiviolence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they are or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, and uncontrolled emotions
  • Emphasize the role children / students have in keeping their school safe.
    • Be prepared to answer questions children might have about whether they are truly safe and what is being done to ensure safety at their school
    • Help children and adolescents distinguish between fantasy and reality
    • Discuss how school and community leaders help ensure safe schools
    • Remind children and adolescents that they can help keep their school safe by
      • Not allowing strangers in the building
      • Reporting strangers on campus
      • Reporting threats to school safety made by students or community members
      • Communicating personal safety concerns to school administrators
      • Asking for emotional support
  • Reassure children that most adults, including parents and teachers, care about them!
    • Tell your children and teens that you love them
    • Hug them to reassure them that you are there for them
    • Consitently express a confident and positive attitude about life

 

*National Association of School Psychologists. Adapted from Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers. www.nasponline.org.

Print Friendly