After the events this week, this is a good topic for the long weekend. Violence in today’s world in the media, in our neighborhoods and even in our schools can make our children feel frightened, unsafe and insecure. Kids are hearing about, and often must cope, with tough issues such as violence at increasingly earlier ages, often before they are ready to understand all the aspects of complicated situations. Yet, there is hope. Parents and other caring adults have a unique opportunity to talk with their children about these issues first, before everyone else does.
- Develop open communication
It is important that you talk with your kids openly and honestly. Use encouragement, support and positive reinforcement so your kids know that they can ask any question-on any topic-freely and without fear of consequence. Provide straightforward answers; otherwise, your child may make up her own explanations that can be more frightening than any honest response you could offer. If you don’t know the answer, admit it-then find the correct information and explore it together. Use everyday opportunities to talk as occasions for discussion. Some of the best talks you’ll have with your child will take place when you least expect them. And remember that it often takes more than a single talk for children to grasp all they need to know. So talk, talk and talk again.
- Encourage them to talk it out.
Children feel better when they talk about their feelings. It lifts the burden of having to face their fears alone and offers an emotional release. If you sense that a violent event (whether real or fictional) has upset your youngster, you might say something like, “That TV program we saw seemed pretty scary to me. What did you think about it?” and see where the conversation leads. If your child appears constantly depressed, angry or feels persecuted, it is especially important to reassure him that you love him and encourage him to talk about his concerns. And if he has been violent or a victim of violence, it is critical to give him a safe place to express his feelings.
- Acknowledge your children’s fears and reassure them of their safety
Children who experience or witness violence, as well as those who have only seen violent acts on TV or in the movies, often become anxious and fearful. That’s why it’s important to reassure a child that their personal world can remain safe. Try saying something like this to your 7 or 8-year-old: “I know that you are afraid. I will do my very best to make sure you are safe.” The recent school tragedies in our community have shown that violence can not only frighten children but can make them feel guilty for not preventing it. By providing consistent support and an accepting environment, you can help reduce children’s anxieties and fears.
- Hold family meetings
Regularly scheduled family meetings can provide children-and us- with an acceptable place to talk about complaints and share opinions. Just be sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. Use these meetings to demonstrate effective problem-solving and negotiation skills. Keep the meetings lively, but well-controlled, so children learn that conflicts can be settled creatively and without violence.
- Pay particular attention to boys
Most boys love action. But action need not become violence. Parents must distinguish between the two and help their boys do so as well. Allow them safe and healthy outlets for their natural energy. And recognize that talking-especially about violence-is different for boys than for girls. Boys may feel ashamed to express their real feelings about violence. Instead of sitting down for a ” talk,” initiate the topic while the two of you are engaged in an activity he enjoys. Provide privacy for these conversations. And be ready to listen when he’s ready to talk, even if the timing isn’t ideal. (Pollack, Real Boys, 1998.)
- Empower them
Enrolling in a confidence building sport such as martial arts can give children the type of empowerment and confidence they need when hearing about events such as recent ones, or when they are practicing or initiating a lockout or lockdown drill at their school.