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Lifestyle

October 25, 2013

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap: Helping children process school-related violence

The recent events in Danvers hit very close to home for all of us in the Boston area. Coming on the heels of the Marathon bombings and the recent school shooting in Nevada, parents need to be on their toes about how to help their children through this latest episode of violence that left a local teacher dead.

School violence is unpredictable and incomprehensible. Naturally, children and adults feel threatened when they learn of unsafe and violent acts occurring in and near their schools. As much as parents want to protect their children from the reality of the recent events in Danvers, it is very difficult to do so when the violence is in our town or close by to where we live.

Can parents help their children understand and process this very tragic event?

Communicate with your children

Parents need to open up the conversation and give their children the opportunity to discuss their feelings, including their fears and anxieties. Questions don’t have to be answered with specific information and in fact many answers are not available. Just the process of dialogue, listening and offering children a supportive parental ear is enough to increase a child’s sense of safety in the wake of the tragedy.

Younger children will have more difficulty processing the event and having the words to express their thoughts and feelings. At age 8 and younger, children may be inclined to draw how they feel or even act out feelings, through play with dolls or other toys. Drawing can help children with self-expression and allow them to relax as they express their inner feelings through their pictures. Parents and adults can gain insight into a child through their drawings.

Parents should send their children a clear message that everything is being done to make all schools safe and although someone was hurt, that is not a reason for students to fear for their own safety. Frequent and repeated reassurance is essential. After telling kids they are safe, avoid getting into conversations about gory details. Instead, focus on the positive things that are being done to help people. Provide specific examples of behavior that highlight the goodness in people and offer examples of how people help others much more often than they hurt others. While parents can tell their children that they understand their fears, they can also remind them of how they have successfully managed their fears in the past.

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