tips for parents to talk to kids about school shootings
Many parents may be wondering how to talk to their child about today’s school shooting. Dayton Children’s experts say the most important thing you can do is listen and take your cues from them.
“Most parents make the mistake of giving too much information, and kids after a while, are either overwhelmed or tune out,” says Gregory Ramey, PhD, executive director for Dayton Children’s Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources. “Depending on age, your child may not have any interest or be acutely impacted by the news. The key is to be guided by your child and you can’t make a mistake.”
Parents should be truthful, but not go into more detail than the child is interested in or can handle. A young child may accept the news at face value without any connection to their life. However, by the time kids reach the age of 7 or 8, they begin to distinguish between fact and fiction, and what they watch on TV can seem all too real. They may ask, "Could I be next? Could that happen to me?
“Unless your child is younger than 5 years old, you don’t have to stop them from watching the news,” says Dr. Ramey. “You can use what they see there to provoke discussion. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them. An adult's willingness to listen will send a powerful message.”
“Most often, kids are going to ask – ‘Am I safe?’ says Ramey. “And that can be a tough one for parents to answer.”
Incidents of school violence are terrible and frightening, but fortunately they are rare. Although it might not seem that way, 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 one percent 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.
Parents can use this information to put a school shooting into context for a child. Share your own feelings, too — during a tragedy, kids often look to adults for their reactions. It helps kids to know that they are not alone in feeling anxious. Knowing that their parents have similar feelings helps kids legitimize their own. At the same time, kids often need parents to help them feel safe.
what schools are doing
Talk with your kids about what schools do to help protect their students. Many schools are taking extra precautions — some focus on keeping weapons out through random locker and bag checks, limiting entry and exit points at the school, and keeping the entryways under teacher supervision. Others use metal detectors.
Lessons on conflict resolution have been added to many schools' courses to help prevent troubled students from resorting to violence. Peer counseling and active peer programs help students learn to watch for signs that a fellow student might be becoming more troubled or violent.
tips for parents
- Know which sources your kids turn to for news and information – TV or online.
- 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.
- Put news stories in proper context. Showing that certain events are isolated or explaining how one event relates to another helps kids make better sense of what they hear.
- Watch the news with your kids, if age appropriate, to filter stories together.
- Avoid shows that aren't appropriate for your child's age or level of development.
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