News stories about school shootings often leave parents and children everywhere feeling overwhelmed with worry. Once I had a six-year-old girl ask me in the middle of a Kidpower workshop, "What if someone comes to our school and starts shooting everybody?" Along with all of the other adults in the room, I looked into her little face and felt ill that she even had to wonder about it.
Violence in schools becomes heartbreakingly and urgently on our minds each time a new tragedy takes place. The threat of violence looms over all children no matter where they live or what their family situation is. It is important to address the concerns of children as gun violence is occurring more frequently and is ever-present in the media. Although nothing works all of the time, the following suggestions can help children to feel less helpless and more prepared in the face of armed violence in schools.
Be a Safe Calm, Person to Talk To
Children of any age need to know that adults are willing to listen to their fears. It is important that adults treat children with respect when they talk about their problems. You need to find a balance between listening and supporting without burdening children with your own fears.
Because of your own anxieties, it might be tempting to try to make children feel better in the moment by pretending that the situation is not really that bad. If you act like something is too terrifying even to talk about, this will make children more afraid. They might want to protect you by not sharing their fears and this can leave them feeling really alone.
It can also be hard not to overreact and sound panic-stricken yourself. If their adults are overwhelmed and afraid, this can be traumatic for children. The subject of violence in schools can, of course, be upsetting for adults, so be sure to get support for your own feelings from other adults if you need it.
Children need adults to listen and explain what is happening and what they should do as calmly and matter-of-factly as possible. Tell children to tell you if anyone is making them uncomfortable about anything. Having children in the habit of talking to you will help you to judge whether or not a situation is potentially dangerous. Violence in schools sometimes grows from ongoing problems between children, and with an understanding of what's happening at school, adults may be able to prevent some problems from growing.
Make Sure it is Safe to Tell At School
It is your job as an adult to take charge of the environments in which your children spend time as best you can. Make sure that your school has a plan for dealing with armed violence just like any other emergency. Make sure that adults are trained in how to deal with a child who makes a report about another child, because violence in schools can escalate if problems are not managed in a way that protects students who make reports.
One girl who was in a very exclusive school in a quiet neighborhood heard a boy bragging about his gun. When she told the principal, the gun was found and the boy was suspended. However, the principal handled the situation in a way that caused the girl to be identified and then he put her back into the classroom. The boy's friends threatened to kill her. The trauma she went through could have been prevented if the school officials had understood how important is to protect the identity of children who tell in order to prevent violence in schools.
SOURCE: Irene van der Zande