How To Talk To Your Kids About Violence
“Mommy, Is a killer still on the loose?”
He hadn’t even had a chance to wipe the sleepiness from his gaze. Yet fear was written all over his face.
My innocent child-awash in the violent reality that shattered our world overnight.
Drowning in fear and insecurity – he’s looking to me for answers.
Yet, I was grappling to gasp my own emotional breathe, my still-unprocessed grief and our new gut-wrenching reality we call our world.
How was I to answer his questions? What will I say to all my boys?
Here’s some tips for talking to your kids about violence.
As daybreak broke, so did hearts across Dallas.
The dawn brought the harsh reality: 12 officers shot, 5 Police Officers Dead.
I didn’t have all the answers for my son’s questions. But I had to find them.
If you are at a loss as to how to talk to your kids, here’s some tips for you.
We have to face the facts: with social media and the technology available to them, it is harder to shield kids from the violence that is happening in the world. Therefore, it is up to us as parents to make sure that we become a part of that conversation with our kids.
1. Find out How Much They Know – Be Age Appropriate With Information
When you talk with your child about high profile news stories, start by asking them open ended questions about what happened and what questions they have. Allow their questions to guide what information you share. It is important that you do not share details that they are not ready to hear. It’s a need-to-know-basis. And it depends on their age. What you share with is different with a 6-year-old vs. a 10-year-old vs. a 13-year-old.
2. Focus on Feelings, Rather Than Facts
Instead of focusing on facts about what happened, try to guide the conversation towards how they are feeling about what is going on. Kids may not be able to express their feelings in an articulate way, but it is important you make sure to validate their feelings when they share them. Kids may say things like “If I had a gun I would have shot that bad guy!” or “The guy who shot those people was just stupid.” It is important to validate what they say and understand the feelings they are trying to express.
3. Reassure Kids They Are Safe
Remind them that these senseless acts of violence that there are good people all around whose job it is to keep us safe. Talk with them about all the people at schools an in their neighborhood who are there looking out for them: teachers, police, fire fighters, neighbors, family, etc.
4. Be Honest
Don’t pretend to have all the answers. The truth is often times we don’t know why senseless acts of violence occur and it is ok to say that. It is also ok to share your own feelings about what has happened. Kids need to know that the best place to come for answers is their parents and if they do not think you will be honest with them, it will cause them to find information from other sources.
5. Be Careful Not To Stereotype
When talking to your kids about senseless acts of violence in the news such as terrorist acts, war, shootings, etc., be aware of your own biases. Often times when adults talk about the perpetrators of senseless acts, they blame race, nationality, gender, etc. as reasons for what happened. Stay away from any generalizations and labeling of any kind and make sure that if your child expresses views that are discriminatory, that you explain to them that danger comes in every shape and color and that we should never condemn a whole group of people because of the actions of one or a few.
6. Look for Signs of Stress
After the conversation, make sure you keep an eye out to see how your child is handling their feelings. Look for any signs of stress and anxiety and seek out professional help if you feel as if your child is not able to move past their feelings of anxiety and fear. Remember that children look to their parents on how to react to these alarming situations. It is important that you model calm behavior and if you yourself are feeling anxious, be aware of how you are portraying that to your kids.
7. Get Involved!
Your children need to feel like they have some sense of control over their environment and that they can have an impact and make a diffference: AND THEY CAN. Get them involved in a cause, or in a charity event, or even making a ‘Safe-Kit’ at home. Little things can make a big difference for them. And frankly, for others. Empower your kids by getting them involved in a great cause- it will help them by making them feel like they can make a difference, that they matter and that they can have an impact. Besides, don’t we all want that?
Remember, your children are looking for security and they want to feel safe: it’s up to you to help them feel that way.
For more information on talking with kids about violence, visit the National Association of School Psychologists. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/revisedPDFs/talkingviolence.pdf
MARIA LUCE discusses How To Talk To Your Kids About Violence on the radio: