Talk with children about school violence

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Recently, stories of school shootings have dominated the news. Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island has received many inquiries from parents who are confused about how to manage this topic with their children. Should parents share news of school shootings with their children? At what age is it appropriate? What should you tell them?

Today’s kids and teens also have unprecedented access to news and information, and it can be difficult to shield kids from news of school violence, or manage what they are being exposed to.

Here are some common questions from parents about how to talk to children about school violence and answers:

Q: My second-grader came home from school feeling worried after practicing a lockdown drill. What can I say to help her feel better?

A: Take her feelings seriously. Let her know you understand why she feels scared, and that adults are working to keep kids safe. Remind her that lockdown drills are like fire drills: Schools practice so everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Just as it is not likely that the school will catch fire, it is also unlikely that there will be violence there. Remind your child of the safety procedures at her school that are already in place to keep students safe.

Q: I don’t normally let my sixth-grader watch the news, but he found out about a school shooting from friends at school and has questions. How do I handle this?

A: Thank your child for coming to you with questions instead of relying on his peers for information. Try asking open-ended questions such as: Is there anything particular on your mind? What would you like to understand better? These questions focus on what is bothering your child and give you insight into how he is making sense of the event. Keep your talk age-appropriate and contained to what is on his mind.

Q: My daughter is in high school. Her class has been talking about how society should react to school violence, and she is passionate about gun control. Our family has always believed in the right to carry. How can we discuss this without arguing?

A: Be willing to listen to a differing point of view and to approach conversations with curiosity. Make a pledge that you will both try to understand each other’s feelings. You will likely find common themes as you explore. Remember that your goal is not to “win.” You are role-modeling how to engage in difficult conversations with respect.

As overwhelming as it can feel to navigate these talks, most kids will respond well to age-appropriate conversations. If you are worried about your child, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.

MEGHAN CAVANAUGH, LICSW, is the clinical director of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island. She can be reached at 401-331-1244.