Money For Lunch – Helping Children Cope with the Realities of School Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

Helping Children Cope with the Realities of School Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

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Recent school shootings have raised significant concerns across the country about the safety of our children as they go off to school each day. Parents and children worry about what has happened, or what could happen. And sadly, the quality of learning may be affected because children need to feel safe at school in order to maximize their potential in learning and in life.

The question of how to prevent such tragedies in the future is an important one with no clear answers. Just as important is how we answer our children’s questions about their safety at school. While we want our children to feel relaxed and secure, recent events make it obvious that we can’t always protect them. Here are tips for helping children to cope with the events that happen around them and feel as secure as possible in an uncertain world.

  1. Share information honestly and in a developmentally appropriate way: When children ask about violence in or around schools, it is important to acknowledge the reality of these events in an age-appropriate way. It is also important not to overwhelm them with information, as too much detail for young children could shut down their ability to process and cope with their feelings.

  2. Reassure children they are safe, but don’t over-promise: Of course, we want our children to feel safe. However, the reality is that despite every effort to ensure their safety at school, bad things can and do happen. You can alleviate children’s fears or anxiety by reviewing their school safety measures in detail, giving them specific steps to take if something were to happen. Again, engaging in open and honest discussions with our children and presenting information in an age-appropriate way is essential.

  3. Help children build a strong social-emotional foundation: This is the cornerstone of a child’s ability to process and cope with difficult situations. Of particular relevance to school violence are the core aspects of self-awareness and emotional self-regulation. Children who have a strong sense of self-awareness understand themselves and their needs in a way that allows them to more fully process and effectively cope with stressful and uncertain events. Children who can self-regulate their emotions, particularly related to challenges or fears, can build resilience against the stressors they face in school and elsewhere.

  4. Foster optimism, not fear: Fostering optimism in our children rather than fear is essential. This doesn’t mean minimizing the reality that bad things happen, because they do and children need the skills to cope with these realities. Yet, at the same time, it is vital that children be able to see the good around them, the positive things that happen in their lives each day. We can also help to cultivate a sense of optimism in our children by encouraging them to notice situations where they do have some control over the outcome, and by encouraging them to take greater personal responsibility and ownership of their behavior.

  5. Help children to build courage: The strategies to foster optimism also can help our children to build courage and to lead courageous lives. While we can’t totally eliminate the fear and the what-ifs from their experiences, we can help children to develop a set of tools to help them cope when bad things happen. These tools foster resilience and the ability to face fears, and they are at the core of living courageously.

Resilience is a key factor in helping children reach their potential. These and other strategies for helping children build resilience against the stressors of daily life are discussed in more depth in my book, Bounce: Help Your Child Build Resilience and Thrive In School, Sports and Life.



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