It doesn’t matter that tragedies like the recent school shooting in Ohio are random and nonsensical. If they’re horrifying to an adult, they can be positively terrifying to a school kid.
Even if your child isn’t within three area codes of this or any other school shooting, he or she can be traumatized. Several child violence experts on Psychcentral.com suggest ways to help a child overcome an irrational fear in the wake of such incidents.
Q. What can parents tell their children if they are afraid to go to school after a school shooting?
A. Let children voice their fears and concerns. Open a conversation by saying, “When we hear about something as sad and scary as a school shooting, it makes mommies, daddies and children worry about our children being safe at school.”
If your child expresses concern about safety or violence at his or her school, talk about it and offer to join the child in discussions with the appropriate school personnel.
Shootings can remind children of a previous experience with danger. If it does, discuss these prior experiences and differentiate them from this recent shooting.
For a limited time, accompany your child to school or home. Spend a little extra time with them at bedtime. But make sure your child understands this is temporary help to assist in returning to a normal routine.
Give your child realistic assurances — that while these events can and do happen, they are rare.
Q. What can you do to protect your children?
A. If violence occurs in your home between adults or between adults and children, get help immediately. Violence at home is the primary exposure for children to violence and violent injury.
All parents experience constant tension between allowing children to be independent and setting limitations for their own protection. Most important is to continually educate your children and openly discuss the safety strategies that accompany increased independence. You can renegotiate this balance with your children on a temporary basis because of immediate safety issues within their own communities and schools.
If you must restrict your child from activities because of safety concerns, explain that the restrictions are temporary and that you are looking forward to the time when the child can enjoy more independence. Know their friends and communicate with their friends’ parents and other parents who might have information about your child’s friends and activities.
Q. How can you recognize the potential for a child to be violent?
A. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says the presence of one or more of the following increases the risk of violent or dangerous behavior:
- past violent or aggressive behavior (including uncontrollable angry outbursts)
- access to guns or other weapons
- bringing a weapon to school
- past suicide attempts or threats
- family history of violent behavior or suicide attempts
- recent experience of humiliation, shame, loss or rejection
- bullying or intimidating peers or younger children
- a pattern of threats
- being a victim of abuse or neglect (physical, sexual or emotional)
- witnessing abuse or violence in the home
- themes of death or depression evident in conversation, written expressions, reading selections or artwork
- preoccupation with themes and acts of violence in TV shows, movies, music, magazines, comics, books, video games and Internet sites
- mental illness, such as depression, mania, psychosis or biopolar disorder
- use of alcohol or illicit drugs
- disciplinary problems at school or in the community (delinquent behavior)
- past destruction of property or vandalism
- cruelty to animals
- fire-setting behavior
- poor peer relationships and/or social isolation
- involvement with cults or gangs
- little or no supervision or support from parents or other caring adult
Communication is key. Encourage your child to express any concerns he or she has about the behavior of others. Be prepared to speak to other parents if your child observes something concerning them about a peer’s behavior. Make sure that your child’s school authorities address any concerns that you bring to their attention.
Schools must have an appropriate procedure to evaluate children of concern to others. Find out if your child’s school has a procedure, and what it is. Find out how it monitors a child’s progress. Parents must impress upon their schools the need to adopt a comprehensive, team approach to ensure one person does not miss the warning signs someone else might see.
Q. What can schools do to prevent violent incidents?
A. After the recent school shootings, the U.S. Department of Education issued school safety guidelines to every school in the country.
Parents can ask school personnel if they have reviewed and implemented any of the Department of Education recommendations. In addition, parents and schools can refer to the recommendations of the National School Safety Center and the material provided by the National Education Association on its website. In coordination with parents, teachers, community agencies, community law enforcement and mental health professionals, the school should develop a plan for violence prevention and intervention.
Q. What can parents do to ease their own anxiety about sending their children to school?
A. School shootings challenge our belief that parents or schools can guarantee total protection and make us keenly aware of our children’s vulnerability to harm or injury.
These concerns are appropriate if they prompt parents to constructively review issues of safety within the family, neighborhood and school community. Taking constructive actions is an important way to alleviate anxieties that result from real-life events. If an act of violence exposes parents to a realistic concern, they must take practical steps to address this concern.
A parent might be experiencing severe anxiety if the shooting brings back previous memories of danger or loss. It can be helpful for parents to talk over these issues with other parents, school personnel and community or religious leaders.