How Can I Talk to My Child About Violence?
Helping your school-age child feel safe
Children look to adults to feel safe. When children hear about a violent act on the news, in movies, or from other children, they need their parents to be their guides. Talking and listening to your child helps your child explore feelings such as being afraid or sad.
How can you help children deal with their fears?
Most children are exposed to violence on TV, in movies, and in other media. Some children even experience violence directly. Here are some ways you can help them deal with their fears.
- Pick the right time to talk. Give children a way to express themselves. Make time so that conversations can be unhurried and relaxed. Don’t start a conversation when your child is upset or highly emotional about an issue. Discussions can take place while walking home from school, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. Let children know that you are open to talking to them by being interested in what happens in their lives.
- Let them tell you what they know. Build your conversation around their questions and what they know about an issue or event, not around what you know. Children don’t understand violence in the same way that adults do.
- Give reassurance. Reassure your children that they are safe. Children often think that the same scary thing will happen in their town or school or to themselves.
- Let them learn from the experience. Give children a way to learn from what scares them. Bring up an example of how they or someone else solved a conflict without using violence.
- Help them use activities to express feelings. Support children’s efforts to work out scary news through play, drawing, or other activities.
What can you tell your child about violence?
You may have your own feelings and fears about a violent act. And talking to your child about it may take a little courage. You can do it. Having the conversation can help both of you. Here are some ideas.
- Ask questions to learn what your child already knows. You might be surprised to know how much your child does or doesn’t know. You can start with, “What are kids saying at school about what happened on the news?” Or ask, “What do you think about your school’s safety announcement?” Ask questions, and be ready to listen.
- Make choices about what to share with your child.
- Early elementary. Young children need reassurance that they are safe. Keep information simple and brief. Talk about the things that their school and your family do to protect them. For example, tell them that the school’s outside doors are locked. Let them know that adults are watching out for them when they play outside.
- Upper elementary and middle school. At this age, children talk more and ask questions about violence and safety. They may use their imagination more. So they may need guidance to separate what really happened and the story they tell.
- Upper middle school and high school. Older children may have their own opinions about what happened and why. This is a great time to listen. Encourage your child to share any fears with you, teachers, or counselors.
- Help your child feel safe. Children at any age need to feel safe. Offer assurance. Even though violence is scary and people talk about it a lot, it happens less often than people think. You can also talk about all the ways that schools, your neighborhood, and other community places work to keep people safe.
- Share your feelings. Talk about how violence makes you feel, even if that feeling is fear. This can help children know that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling. And don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. For example, if a child asks, “Why do bad things happen?” it’s okay to say you don’t know. But you can explain how adults in their lives, like teachers and principals, work hard to keep children safe.