By Stephanie McKinney
JI Curriculum Writer
With the recent shooting in Arizona, unfolding chaos in Egypt, and other violent events all over the news, many of us find ourselves having to talk to our children about these issues. Ideally, we’d like to shield younger children from exposure to violence in the news, but that doesn’t always work. So what’s a parent or teacher to do?
There is no “one size fits all” answer here. Factors to consider include the age of the child, what he or she has already been exposed to, and what his or her concerns are. Be careful not to give children more information than they can process. Children may not comprehend the entirety of the event, and providing additional information may actually increase the anxiety.
Some kids will come out and ask questions, and adults should answer them as honestly as is appropriate given their age. Be sure to affirm the fact that violent events are rare and not likely to happen in their world. For example, if children ask about the shooting in Arizona, a good place to begin is by finding out what they know. Ask, “What have you heard?” or “What are your friends saying about it?”
These kinds of questions allow you to listen to children, gauge their concerns, and learn how they perceive events. This can also be a good starting place for children who are reluctant to ask questions or talk about their fears, or if you are not sure what information is circulating among their peers.
When a child looks at you to explain the unexplainable, like why the shooter in Arizona made the choices he did, your answer should make it clear this was a very unusual event, a very bad choice, and that the shooter is in jail and cannot hurt anyone else.
It’s also important to ask follow-up questions to make sure you’ve addressed the child’s concerns. Since children see the world very differently, make sure your reply was helpful. If the child is particularly upset by an event, waiting a few days and asking if he or she is still thinking about it can also help you assess how he or she is processing the information.
* For more information, see the Public School Review website in-depth piece on “How to Discuss Violence in Schools with Children“.