Sadly, the world we live in is full of daily violence. The idea of sitting down and discussing violence with your children can be scary and intimidating. However, I think it is a topic that needs to be discussed and we need to take the time to prepare our children for what they might see. Here are my thoughts on how to talk to your children about violence.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of a mass shooting.
Recently, my husband and I experienced a pretty terrifying situation in our own town. For most of you, you might have heard about this particular act of violence because it was all over the news, world-wide. Last weekend (Labor Day weekend) we had an active shooter situation in my town of Odessa, Texas. A man opened fire from a moving vehicle, while he drove all over our town. Here is a little more information. 8 people were killed and 22 were injured, including a 17-month-old.
My husband and I were just a couple of streets over at a home store, and we now believe that we actually heard the shots. When we left the store, we saw at least a dozen cop cars, driving in a line, high speed, lights, and sirens on doing a grid search of our town. I have never felt such a strong feeling of tension and fear in the air. Thankfully, our boys were at home with my mother. However, this got me to thinking about how to discuss violence with our children. This is what I learned.
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How to Talk to Your Children About Violence
First and foremost, it is extremely important to make sure you are age-appropriate with what you share with your children about violence. Here are some examples for different ages according to commonsense media:
- Avoid discussion of or overexposure to really horrific news
- Don’t bring it up, unless you think they know something
- Affirm that your family is safe
- Simplify complex ideas and then move on
- Distinguish between real and pretend
- Wait and see
- Talk and listen
- Be honest and direct
- Discuss sensationalism in news and media
- Explain context and offer perspective
- Assume they know, but don’t assume their knowledge is complete
- Get them talking
- Accept their sources, but expand their horizons
- Offer hope
You can read more from Commonsense Media here.
No matter the age, reassurance is always important. Reassure your children that they are safe. This one is difficult for me, but I see the importance. The truth is, I want to be able to promise my children that they will always be safe, but I can’t make that promise. However, I do think we need our children to feel safe. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to keep them safe.
Validate their feelings, let them know that whatever they are feeling is okay whenever a tragedy occurs. You might need to aide your children on how to express those feelings.
Make time to talk and encourage talking.
Encourage your children to discuss what they have seen and heard. Make time to talk to your children and be patient. Remember that not all children will readily start discussing their thoughts and feelings. Watch for signs that they are ready and interested in talking. For example, if your child is standing around or following you around while you are doing household chores, especially if this isn’t something they normally do.
Your children will feel better when they talk about their feelings. It makes them feel like they are not having to carry this fear on their own. Make sure that if your children have heard certain things from friends or at school that their facts are accurate and not something that is only making them feel more scared.
Review safety procedures.
Now is the time to review safety procedures, at home and at school. Here are some examples:
- Make sure they can call 911.
- Make sure they know how to unlock your cellphone.
- Do your children know who they can run to if they feel threatened?
- Introduce your children to first responders when you see them around town.
Limit exposure to violence.
Research has shown that overexposure to violence on TV, movies, games, etc…can have a negative effect on children. Overexposure to violence can cause children to feel less safe and desensitize them to violence. Talk to your children about what they see on TV and in video games. Make sure they know the difference between real and pretend. Here are a few ways to limit exposure to violence:
- Limit TV viewing to only age-appropriate programs
- Go online together and find age-appropriate sites that they can visit
- Supervise your children’s exposure to ALL media
- Take notice of the ratings for TV, movies, and games
- Install monitory tools to block inappropriate material on the Internet and TV
Stand firm and make sure your children understand your limits and standards.
It is important to emphasize that you don’t condone violence. Now, I don’t want to turn this into a controversial post, but I do believe that children should be taught to defend themselves in certain situations. However, I don’t condone them starting the violence. When your children get old enough, watching the news together can be a good learning experience. You can use this time to point out to your children the consequences of violence.
The values that you want to instill in your children need to remain firm, clear, and consistent. When the infamous line “everybody else does it” rears its ugly head, stand firm in what you believe and make sure they know you are in control of your house.
Make sure your children understand your limits. For example, teasing might be fun and okay. However, it has limits. You need to make sure they understand that teasing can be bullying in some situations.
Keep a close watch of your children’s emotional state.
Not all children are comfortable with expressing their feelings. You need to be aware of your children’s emotional state. Things to watch for:
- Sleep pattern changes
- Changes in appetite
- Behavioral changes
All children react different and at different levels of severity. It all boils down to you need to know your child. If you think they need extra help and these behaviors won’t dissipate with time, then seek extra help.
Offer different ways of coping.
It is important to offer your children different ways of coping. Insist on the importance of talking and give them creative outlets. Examples:
- Drawing out their feelings
- Writing out their feelings
- Acting out their feelings or fears
Control your own behavior.
Your children learn more from what you do than from what you say. Now is a good time to evaluate how you react to certain situations. Are you prone to violent reactions? How do you handle arguments? Start mirroring the way you want your children to behave.
Keep the normal routine.
By keeping the normal routine you are reassuring your children that everything is okay. Don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed but keep to the normal routine as much as possible. For example, make sure they get enough sleep, eat regular meals, and head back to school.
Ask for help or support.
If you start to feel like you are overwhelmed, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Maybe you feel like your child needs more help then what you are able to give them, reach out.
In closing, I hope you found my tips on how to talk to your children about violence helpful or at least a good place to start. This world can be a scary place, but with the right tools, we can help prepare our children for this world and teach them to be a light in the darkness.
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31