It is National Youth Violence Prevention Week! Sadly in our society, school violence is a real issue. We all hope that our children will not be involved in bullying, dating violence, or school shootings, but we need to be prepared as everyone is exposed to them at some level, even if it is a news story seen on T.V. As parents, how you handle the information will greatly impact how your children handle it. Here are some ideas to help you be prepared:
Tips to Talk to Your Child about School Violence
Prior to an event: Get involved with the school. The school is more likely to take our concerns about our children seriously if they know us. This also gives us the opportunity to know what they do regarding bullying or shooter situations. Talk to your child about what they know and what their plan is in a low stress situation such as causally over dinner or a car ride. Help them to problem solve before an occurrence and gauge how serious they take it. We want out children to take it seriously, but humans fare better if they have a combination of a good sense of humor and a level of preparedness. Make sure your child knows at least 2-3 adults they can go to for help. It may not be us as their parents, but it could be a coach, an aunt/uncle, a mentor, or a family friend. However, when safety is on the line, make sure your child and the adult know that parents need to be involved.
During an event: Your child just told you that someone has been bullying them or touched them in a way they did not want to be touched. And your response is: to not freak out! If we overreact, our children are less likely to come to us with information and instead will feel they need to protect us instead of us be the protector. A better reaction would be to thank them for trusting you and telling you. Show your concern and be on their side even if you doubt the entire story. You may need to get more information before you make a decision how to act, so tell them this.
A great way to help them know you are part of the solution and not over react is to ask, “What do you think we should do about this?” They may already have an idea. Also, helping them to be capable and build off their strengths is great to help them adjust to the trauma, no matter what the level. A note of advice, schools have “no bullying” policies and no retaliation, but this is not always upheld. There are times when your child tells a counselor or principal at school that there will be backlash sometimes from the individual and sometimes from the school. Help prepare your child for this possibility or take it into account when deciding the best solution. You may need to go above or outside of the school for assistance.
After an event: Ask your child how it went. Find out if anything is still bothering them about the event. Point out positives of their
actions; even if it did not go well, find a positive they engaged in and use that to build on as you educate them on better options. Some children get over things quickly and some ruminate over it, so be okay with however they cope and don’t expect them to react one way or another. If they continue to have difficulties coping for a month to a few months after or if the situation or their reaction is extreme, get a professional involved. If the situation is not resolved, come up with another plan of action.
We all try to raise healthy children, emotionally and physically. A few additional resources include Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, or check out these websites:
Jennifer Kempfert is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and couples specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Westminster, CO.