Explaining Violence to Children

The Rice Lake Public Library sends our sincere condolences to the people and families affected by the violence at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Even though we are so far away geographically from Connecticut, this terrible tragedy affects us all.

Here are some tips on how to cope:

  1. Be aware of your feelings and thoughts. Anxiety, worry, sadness and anger are all expected reactions to violent events such as school shootings. It is important, however, that you understand your feelings and thoughts.
  2. Do not make assumptions. Each individual has different reactions and responses to a traumatic event. It is important that you do not make assumptions about other’s thoughts and feelings.
  3. Engage in open communication.
  4. Expect emotions. Expect that everyone will be experiencing a number of emotions and that feelings will fluctuate from day to day.
  5. Validate emotions. A great variety of feelings can be expected as a result of school violence. For example, you can say “I can see that you are very worried about going back to school”, “I know how confused you are about all this. I feel the same way” or “I can see that you are very sad.”
  6. Be honest and open. Sharing your own feelings may help to normalize the experiences and reactions of others.
  7. Keep it in perspective. 
  8. Discuss the signs of violence. Have conversations with others about signs of violence in your surroundings. Keep in mind that although warning signs may exist, not everyone with warning signs will engage in aggressive or violent behaviors. Some of the signs include a history of threatening behaviors, violence or aggression, difficulty controlling anger and frustration, and regular run-ins with the law. Other warning signs include significant withdrawal from social activities and friends, a history of rejection or victimization through bullying, and a sense of loneliness and alienation. However, be sure to communicate that not everyone they encounter with these signs is potentially a danger to them.
  9. Be proactive. Research the safety procedures and plans at your child’s school with your children. Read information on the school’s website or handbook and ask questions of the administration.
  10. Continue with your goals and plans.
  11. Use and model coping skills. Use relaxation techniques that have worked for you in the past. Relaxation techniques include taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm and visualizing a safe and calm place, such as a sandy beach or pleasurable memory.
  12. Give back to your community with volunteering. 
  13. Seek professional guidance.
  14. Seek social support. 

Some of you may be wondering how to discuss this violence with children. The National Association of School Psychologists offer a series of suggestions for doing so. Click here for this handout. Here are some important points to emphasize:

  • Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
  • The school building is safe because … (cite specific school procedures).
  • We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
  • There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
  • Don’t dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect our school.
  • Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
  • Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults
  • (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
  • Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.
  • Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

Tips and topics provided by the National Association of School Psychologists.


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