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Talking to Children about Violence

talking, children, violence

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Science

When a school shooting occurs it may make your child feel vulnerable. They may need help coping with their feelings. Parents should "check in" with their children of every age to see how they're feeling about the school shooting. It is important to know what children are thinking or feeling and be prepared to support them.

The age of your child will make a difference in how you need to react. Preschoolers through age five may have seen reports on the news. Begin by saying, “That looks pretty scary, doesn’t it?  For school age children, ask if they have seen the reports and talk about your own feelings by saying, “I’m very sad for all of those people and their families.” Go on to discuss that it is important not to let what happened scare us so much that we don’t have fun and enjoy our lives. Remember that young children react largely to the attitudes and emotional responses of those around them. The meaning of an event for children is drawn more significantly from the reactions of others than from the event itself. With older children and teens, it is more effective to talk about your own feelings first. If you share your feelings, it may help your teen to talk about the tragedy and their own fears. Children of all ages should be reassured about their own safety.

The following are some topics to discuss with older children and teens related to school violence:

  • Explain the distinction between being different from other students and having severe problems that lead to extreme violence.
  • Express to your teen how important it is to let you or another adult know if they hear another student threatening violence towards himself or others.
  • Talk about what it might feel like to be an outcast at school, and find out if your teen is having trouble fitting in.
  • We need to continue to emphasize the unacceptability of violence to settle issues or solve problems. We need to keep on stressing with children and teens that violence does not work.

This is a good time to make the connection of how a tragedy such as this might have been prevented. The following are several learning principles for children that parents should reinforce over time:

  • Think before you act — impulsiveness doesn't work.
  • Take responsibility for actions and consequences. Consider your effects on others, and the rights of others.
  • Be aware and concerned about peers in distress. Early teens generally are not sensitive to their peers, but we should emphasize this anyway.
  • Learn to deal with anger, loss and other emotions.
  • Violence is not a solution, is not acceptable, and is not cool.
  • Talk about right and wrong, conscience, empathy and compassion.

Even though the news has been filled with reports of the recent school shooting, emphasize that the majority of children are safe at school.

Sources:  Ellie McCann, Regional Extension Educator, and Kathleen Olson, Program Director, Partnering for School Success, University of Minnesota Extension Service.

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