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Tips for talking to children about violence and traumatic incidents

We work hard to ensure our schools are safe, welcoming places for all students and families to learn and thrive. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears. No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. What can you do as a parent to help your kids process information that can be unsettling? Here are some tips to help with family conversations at home.

Your kids will look to the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too.

Reassure children that they are safe. 

Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

Make time to talk. 

Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.

Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.

Early elementary school – provide simple information balanced by assurance of safety.

Upper elementary and early middle school – answer questions and assist in separating reality from fantasy.

Upper middle school and high school – students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. Emphasize student role in safety and how to access support.

Review safety procedures.

This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.

Observe children’s emotional state.

Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

Maintain a normal routine. 

Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical and mental health. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed. Limit/be aware of media exposure.