on Talking to Your Kids About Violence
10 Tips to Help Kids Deal with Violence
to Talk to Your Kids About Feelings
Tips to Help Your Kids Deal with Violence
Children are exposed to numerous accounts of violence,
such as abductions, murder, and random acts of terrorism. Parents
need to be aware that children may react strongly to those events
and should be prepared to discuss their child’s thoughts and feelings.
The following are some guidelines for parents.
Find out what information your child is getting.
Ask your children what they are hearing at school. If appropriate,
give them factual information to dispel rumors they are hearing.
Monitor their exposure to television reports to ensure kids
are not watching repeats of the same violent images. (See 7
below.) Help explain what they see if they do watch television.
To start a discussion you might ask, “What are the kids at school
saying about . . .[the incident] ?” Listen to children’s thoughts.
Reflect what you think the child is saying, and provide correct
information if needed. See step 4 below.
Acknowledge feelings. Tune into your
child’s feelings. Reflect the feelings and the situation. For
example, “You feel scared that the building was blown up.” Or,
“You’re sad so many people were killed.” If the child appears
unaffected, you could ask tentatively, “I’m wondering if you
feel sad so many people were hurt?” It is also helpful to acknowledge
your feelings. “I was terrified when I heard about the attack,
because Uncle John works in New York City.”
Offer tools to cope with the feelings. Share
with your child how you cope with the feelings. “I am so upset
I am going to go sit in the garden and absorb the peaceful feelings
there.” Suggest ways your child can calm himself or herself.
“If you’re feeling sad, you can ask for a hug, we can go for
a walk, or you can draw a picture of your feelings.” Once you
have addressed the feelings, you can talk about the situation.
Talk about the situation. Be honest and
careful about what you say. Give your children information at
their own level and put the event in context. Explain that even
though frightening things happen to children every once in awhile,
most children go about their day with no harm. Don’t describe
unlikely scenarios that would unnecessarily frighten your children.
However, don’t totally avoid the topic since kids know something
is going on.
Reassure your children that adults are taking
care of them. Tell your children what you and others are
doing to ensure their safety. For example, “The FAA has grounded
all planes until they can make sure they are safe.” Tell them
what their daycare provider or teacher is doing to maintain
safety. Review safety precautions and practice routines. Tell
children what they can do to enhance their own safety. For example,
tell them to go to an adult whom they trust if they feel threatened
in any situation.
Provide extra emotional support for your
children. Understand that children of different ages react
differently. Younger children may react by showing more separation
anxiety when their parents leave them at daycare or school.
Older children may present a tough exterior or act out aggressive
behavior. Teens may need someone to listen as they analyze what
Limit the amount of exposure to violent television,
movies, videos and computer games. Research has found that
children who watch a lot of violence feel less safe than those
who watch little or none. And, an increased exposure to violence
increases children’s tolerance for violence. The impact of violence
on children is cumulative. This is true for children of all
Be aware of other areas of children’s lives
that may make them especially vulnerable to fears regarding
violence against children. Children who have experienced a traumatic
incident in the past, children who are grieving a personal tragedy,
and children who are ill are all more susceptible to anxiety
regarding other events.
Reduce stress levels. Don’t overdo activities.
Maintain normal routines for eating, sleeping, and play. Keep
an eye open for any signs of anxiety like: increased irritability
or frustration, troubles eating or sleeping, bodily complaints
like headache, stomachache, etc. If symptoms continue for an
extended period, get professional advice.
Avoid infecting your children’s lives with
your own anxiety. Children are tuned into their parents’
feelings. If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety caused by
traumatic events, take steps to deal with your own feelings
before your children are affected. You can talk to someone supportive
or get counseling if needed.
by Elizabeth Crary