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Tip: Talking With Kids About School Violence

Discussion Starters

What to Ask:

"There's been some news this week about (insert event). Is anyone at school talking about it? What are kids saying?"

If your children have not heard about this news, explain the event simply, telling them just what they need to know, why they are safe, and what is being done to stop the violence and solve the crime.

Keep in Mind:

These events should be discussed in age-appropriate ways. Young children are mostly worried about whether they will be safe and if the people they love will be all right. Older children will share these concerns but have more specific questions. For example, in the case of an event like Columbine, you could reassure a younger child that his school is safe and that this happened many miles away. However an older child might need a more detailed description in order to be reassured. He might want to find out exactly what happened and understand why a student would commit such a violent act. He may also relate this event specifically to his own school and talk about other kids he knows and the security systems in place.

Sometimes —even if your kids don't want to talk about the news— it's important to find a way to talk anyway.

These conversations are particularly useful if the news has a direct effect on your children's life, such as when security at the airport increases before a family trip. Discussions about disturbing events are equally important —for example after a school shooting or natural disaster.

When to have these discussions depends on the age and stage of your child. While you might be concerned about starting a conversation with a child as young as five, be aware that kids this age are likely to hear about the news at school or on the playground even if they don't watch or read it at home. And they will be less anxious hearing about disturbing news if they have heard it from you first.

Initiating a discussion with kids over the age of eight presents its own set of challenges, particularly if your older child's response is, "We talked about it at school, already!" Be aware that some children will be anxious to talk about current events while others may show little interest. Take the lead from your child on how detailed a conversation should be or how long it should last. "You don't need to put pressure on your older kids," says Diane Levin, Ph.D., "but you might simply reply, 'well what did you talk about?'"

While specific events may change, the conversational themes remain the same. And the amount of interest in the news increases with age. The discussion-starters below, suggested by advisors Jane Katch and Diane Levin, are presented by topic —with suggestions on what to ask, what to listen for, how to soothe, and how to keep the conversation going.

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