Stories of violent acts in school are on the minds of many. Photos and videos of recent events replay through our minds trying to make sense of the tragedy. We hear stories of great courage, loss, bravery, fear, guilt, and grief. These stories can confuse and frighten children. In the face of tragedy, parents and caring adults play such an important role in educating their children with accurate information and sharing guidance on how to react. When children are struck with fear and anxiety, caring adults get to hold space for them, validating both the child's feelings and their own. Caring adults demonstrate a healthy way to express feelings and model coping skills. They also get to be the comforting voice reassuring children with a message they desperately need to hear:
Caring adults can help children by making time to talk, keeping explanations developmentally appropriate, limiting "electronic" exposure to these events, and reviewing safety procedures. As a caring adult helps walk with young people through these tragedies, it is also important to keep an eye on the children's emotional states. Watch for extreme reactions, sudden drastic changes, preoccupations, as well as changes in eating, sleeping, hygiene, social interactions, and anxiety level. Remember, it is okay to seek additional help if you are concerned by a child's behavior.
As you talk to children about violence, here are some potential points to emphasize:
Schools are safe places
Everyone plays a role in school safety
Tell an adult if there is something they’re worried about or something they’ve seen or heard
Acknowledge that sometimes people do things to hurt others and it’s hard to understand why
Mental illness does not mean someone will definitely be violent
Violence is never the answer, there are many ways to express your emotions that are productive
Caring adults are valuable resources to children trying to make sense of the violence in the world. However, you are most helpful to others when you are healthy and taking care of yourself. Know your limitations. Understand your own triggers for stress. Seek help when you need it.
Check out these additional resources for more information on this important topic:
God, comfort the hearts of those that are fearful, anxious, and grieving as a result of the violence in our schools. May our children feel loved, understood, supported, and safe. Bring peace to our broken world.
Special thanks to guest blogger, Amy Smith. Vicar Amy is finishing her first year at the United Lutheran Seminary where she is working toward a Master of Divinity degree. She is also a certified school psychologist and currently works as an Educational Consultant at the PA Training and Technical Assistance Network.