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When talking about thoughts and feelings, the age of a child will make a difference in how parents should respond.
Talking to children about violence
From eNews, May 3, 2007
When disaster strikes--such as the recent school shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., or the February shootings at a Salt Lake City mall?children can feel vulnerable and may need help coping with their feelings. Parents should check in with their children to see what they're thinking and how they're doing emotionally. The age of a child will make a difference in how you need to react. ** With preschoolers through age 5, who may have seen reports on the news, you can begin by saying, "That looks pretty scary, doesn't it? What do you think about it?"
** With school-age children, ask if they have seen the reports and talk about your own feelings by saying, "I'm very sad for all of those people and their families." Remember that young children react largely to the attitudes and emotional responses of those around them, more so than the event itself. ** With older children and teens, it is more effective to talk about your own feelings first--this may help your teen to talk about the tragedy and their own fears. For young adults on college campuses, you can also discuss the safety procedures of their specific campus. Children of all ages should be reassured about their own safety. The following are some specific things to discuss with older children and teens related to school violence:
- It's okay to express fear at what has been happening and compassion for the students and families who have survived this tragedy.
- Explain the distinction between being different from other students and having severe problems that lead to extreme violence.
- Express how important it is to let you or another adult know if they hear another student threatening violence towards him or her, or others.
- Talk about what it might feel like to be an outcast at school and find out if your teen is having trouble fitting in.
- Talk about solving problems constructively and peacefully, and help your teen find appropriate solutions to problems without using violence.
Ellie McCann and Kathleen Olson are family relations educators with University of Minnesota Extension.