Emergency Preparedness

Tips for Talking with Children about Violence

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
National Association of Elementary School Principals

Limit TV coverage. Because children can be overwhelmed with the tragedy, limit their TV exposure of the event. Instead, check in periodically with the news, and focus on finding ways to distract your children with other activities.

Be extra comforting. Even if they don’t seem to be alarmed, children who are aware of disastrous events can absorb the trauma and be quietly disturbed. Make extra time for quiet activities with your children, such as reading or taking a walk; and give them plenty of hugs.

Watch for behavior changes. Children often don’t talk about being afraid, but their behavior can be a clue that they’re scared. Young children might have a hard time sleeping or might wake up from a bad nightmare. Sometimes, they adopt behaviors, like thumb sucking, bedwetting, or baby talk. Others get irrationally angry or sad, and many withdraw and stop socializing. If you see any of these behaviors after a traumatic event, it means your child needs extra help and comfort.

Make sure they know that there are people in charge who are helping. Children need to know that things will eventually be okay again and that there are adults in charge who are helping to make it right. Talk to your children about the people who are helping resolve the consequences of the disaster, and share your admiration with them about the great work these people are doing.

Do something for others.
One way to help children cope in the aftermath of a disaster is to find a way, through your community, to help those affected. Schools, churches, temples, synagogues, and organizations like the Red Cross are great places to go to find out how you and your children can help.

Talking to Children About Violence
National Association of School Psychologists

High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears. Below are some tips from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

1.  Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

2.  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, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.

3.  Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
4.  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.
 
5.  Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

6.  Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.

7.  Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.

Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children
NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention, children’s trauma reactions and crisis response at www.nasponline.org.

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