For parents hoping to shield children from news of the recent school shootings across the country, the task is nearly impossible. Today's adolescents and teens...
For parents hoping to shield children from news of the recent school shootings across the country, the task is nearly impossible.
Today’s adolescents and teens happen upon an endless amount of news while researching homework on the Internet or talking with friends through instant messaging systems, chat rooms and blogs. Some even receive news updates on their cellphones.
So while parents’ instincts might be to shy away from talking about frightening real-life stories of harm to children, chances are they will need to confront the news instead. Some guidelines:
“Open up the conversation. If the child is saying they’re not upset, you can drop the conversation,” says Melissa Brymer, director of the terrorism and disaster programs at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at UCLA. “Some kids do need the parent or adult to take that first step.”
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She suggests talking at a time when you can focus on your child’s verbal and nonverbal responses, perhaps after dinner. Bedtime isn’t a good choice, since the child’s anxiety could spiral late at night. “Explain that emergencies can happen in many different ways,” says Brymer, “and that schools have crisis plans to make sure kids are safe so they can learn.”
If you haven’t done so already, get details on the disaster plan for your school district, including specifics on evacuation and how you can get accurate information during a crisis. Then reassure your child that you’ll know how to reach him or her in an emergency.
Help children form their own plans. Brymer advises making a list of two or three trusted adults that your children can go to at school if they see a suspicious stranger or overhear students talking about committing violence. Ask if any new terms (such as “lockdown”) confuse them, then discuss how you can contact each other if cellphone service is jammed.
Do they know where the nearest pay phones are, and have they ever used one? Do they know how much change is needed to make a local call? They may never need this information, but having it can be emotionally empowering.
Discuss how the people who have carried out these attacks should have dealt with their anger. “This is a prime time, what we call a teachable moment, where you can discuss how to solve problems and ways to show anger that don’t involve verbally or physically hurting someone,” says Marilyn Tolbert, director of laboratory schools for Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
Tolbert also recommends reminding children that they can always talk with you or others about their anger or fear.
Remind children how rare school shootings are. “If you figure how many schools there are in the country,” says Brymer, “we realize it feels more commonplace than it is. It’s important to be putting it into context.”
It is also useful to point out to smaller children that the images they see on television are the same shootings being repeated, not new violence. “We saw after 9/11 that very young kids who kept seeing the images of buildings crashing thought there were buildings crashing every day,” says Brymer. It can also help to let them know just how far away these recent events took place from their own community.
You can express confidence in school safety, without promising that violence won’t happen. “We don’t want to lie to them,” Tolbert says. “I would err toward the side of saying, ‘I feel very comfortable at your school, and you feel safe there. They’re taking every precaution.’ ” Remind your child that safety rules, such as requiring visitors to wear badges, are in place at their school to protect them.
If older children are watching a lot of news coverage of recent violence, says Brymer, you may want to limit their intake or ask again how they’re feeling. Watching some coverage can be helpful to clarify misinformation they may have gotten from their peers, but consuming too much violent imagery can intensify their anxiety.