Talking to Children about Violence

This article is a reprint on how to talk to children about violence. Unfortunately, the information is still timely as shootings continue to occur around the globe negatively impacting children and their development. Regardless of the specific incident, this blog will help parent understand the process for safely communicating with children.

Violence in society is a major issue for families today. It’s everywhere we look, it seems, and as a parent it disturbs me deeply. Part of the job of parenting is to protect our children from the ills, if not the evils of the world, but what do you do when it comes looking for you. Recent sniper attacks, school suicide-killings and the outbreak of fighting around the world, makes talking to our children about violence a necessary responsibility.

It would be easy to wait until our children bring up the issue and not take a lead role in discussing violence with them. Unfortunately, too many children take in the information, attempt to process it with their limited experience and understanding, and never say a word to an adult. Just because they don’t initiate, doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t. For these children, talking about the violence may relieve feelings of anxiety and insecurity they were bottling up inside. Children get their sense of safety from the attitudes and behaviors of adults, primarily parents. How we act and talk will have a direct impact of the emotional well being of children.

The first step to talking to children about violence is to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings about the violence. The best way is the simplest: Ask them what they think or feel. This will give parents a barometer about where the child is at and what concerns need to be addressed. Demonstrate that you are willing to hear it and give your child full attention without judgement. Too many parents are quick to jump into a child’s comments and make them seem invalid. A parent might dismiss their child’s fears as unnecessary: “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “You don’t need to worry about that.” A parent might even reply that the child is being silly, stupid, or overreacting for what they are thinking and feeling. This is a sure method to get a child to shut down emotionally and not communicate with a parent, now and in the future. Get on a child’s level by sitting or kneeling down when talking to them. And get rid of any distractions (i.e., turn off the television or radio). Make the conversation about them not you.

The second step is to clarify and/or reflect back a child’s comments. For example, a parent might say, “Tell me more about your fears of someone killing you” or “What do you mean you think the world is going to end.” This also communicates to a child that what they have to say is important and not trivial. It makes parents more aware of the underlying issues. If a child’s comments are clear then repeat back to the child what you heard them say. Don’t be a parrot; just summarize it, so that you and the child are on the same ground mentally.

The third step is to share your feelings and value about the violence. This means you must be aware of what they are before you ask your child to share. How do you feel about the violence? What is your value-system about killing, death, and violence? Is it a social, moral, or relational issue for you or does it encompass all three. Once you are aware of where you stand, you can communicate this with your child. Share in a direct, simple, and honest manner. How you say something may be more important than what you say. But be sure to say it in a matter of fact way.

What you say will vary depending on your values and the age of your child. Young children have difficulty separating reality from fantasy and it may be important to describe the difference. For example, a parent of a young child might state: “I know that the cartoons you watch sometimes have characters who shoot one another but that is not real. In real life, when someone gets shot they get hurt and they might even die.” Avoid in-depth explanations for younger children. They will lose attention and not be able to process long descriptions. One to two sentences are more than enough. Additionally, parents can use drawings and children’s book about fighting, violence, etc. Always follow up with reassurances that you love them, will do your best to care and protect them, and that they are safe.

Older children may be able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings more distinctly but don’t let that be an excuse not to talk about it. Use the same principles as with younger children but feel free to talk more deeply about the violence. Watch the news report together or read the newspaper article out loud, pausing to discussing thoughts and feelings. Ask them if they know of anyone who has been the victim of violence. The older they are the more likely they will know or have heard of someone. Talk about violence that has occurred towards them or in their daily life, such as school. Guide the older child toward your values without forcing them on them or telling them how they should believe. And look at ways to get involved in your community or through national relief efforts to help victims of violence. Being proactive will give a child a sense of power versus powerlessness.

What we say to children is important and we must say something. Sticking our heads in the sand will not improve the situation. Actually, ignoring or dismissing the topic of violence will increase a child’s anxiety and fears. But even more importantly, how we talk about violence will have profound impact on our child’s sense of self, their understanding of right from wrong, and their relationship with the parent.

40% of Students Exposed to Traumatic Stress

According to a recent article by Greater Good Magazine “Data suggests that, on average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, close to 40 percent of students in the U.S. has been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives, with sexual assault, physical assault, and witnessing domestic violence being the three most prevalent.”

Fortunately, we can use trauma-informed learning tools to help! Visit our online course for more information for your child and your school: http://TraumaToolbox.com 

This is a free course and open to all stakeholders in your community. We are developing new courses in fall 2018. Take online quizzes, get downloadable reports, watch multimedia lessons and much more. Go now!

Failing School? Sensory Issues Could be the Problem.

Parents are worried about children returning to school and failing!

Guest post by Marga Grey, OT

It’s a horrible thought…

Your little one, suffering at school. Whether they’re struggling to make sense of the lessons, or even being bullied for being “different”.

All you want to do is swoop in and protect them! I know, I’m a mom myself. And even as they get older, that protective feeling doesn’t get any less…

If I take my mom hat off for a minute, and put my Occupational Therapist one on, I can tell you a fact:

Poor Sensory Motor Skills are the culprit for most problems in the classroom.

It’s true.

Things like:

  • Concentration
  • Handwriting
  • Sitting still in their chair
  • Coordination
  • And more

Are all impacted by poor Sensory Motor Skills.

And how a child reacts to these problems is different in every case.

Some go into their shell, become anxious and have bad associations with school, even experiencing physical symptoms like stomach pain and headaches at the thought of going to school.

Others act out and are unfairly labeled “troublemaker” or “lazy” when they actually have no control over their ability to complete the allocated tasks.

One thing is consistent throughout every child I see though:

Improving their Sensory Motor Skills improves their performance in the classroom. Fact.

And as they have to be at school for 12 years (not counting further study after that) it is SO important to give them the best possible foundation for their schooling career!

Even if you feel they are doing “Okay” and there’s nothing really wrong… helping your child’s Sensory Motor Skill development will only give your child even more of an advantage.

Learn how to give your child the skill to focus and control their impulses before school starts! Click here for more info.

Children Heal in Healthy Families

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

When parents decide to build their family they don’t want to believe that their child may in up with developmental or special needs that require a lot of time, commitment and yes, money. They are dreaming of the perfect family, playing and enjoying warm, cuddly time together. There is nothing wrong with that but not every dream turns out that way. 

Many families choose to build their family through adoption or end up taking care of a relatives child due to many misfortunes and circumstances. Consequently, many children come with a history of trauma and loss. The dream family is still possible but it must be modified and made more realistic. You have to say goodbye to the old dream to allow room for the new one to unfold.

Research and common experiences proves that children can heal in a healthy family. A child needs a secure attachment relationships in order to maximize all the areas of their lives, socially, physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually. 

Because many children comes from insecure attachment relationships, they don’t always know what it means to be in a health family. Their special needs may be based on survival in high stress family situations. Their “abnormal behaviors” in a normal family were perfectly “normal” in their abnormal situations before entering the new home. A bit of rehabilitation is necessary to help them make the internal and external adjustments. 

Trauma situations impact the children development. This includes their brain development as well. The child needs to adapt to overwhelming and hostile environments and can create a position of offensive behaviors that don’t want to submit to parental controls. An internal model develops that believes the world and caregivers cannot be trusted. 

Fortunately, the same brain that adapted to stressful circumstances can re-adapt to calm living environments. This happens over time, sometimes quickly and sometimes not so quickly. This is challenging for parents to understand and cope. 

The brain must be re-activated to change. Experience dictates form and function when it comes to brain adaptation. New, positive experiences that happen repeatedly will open up new neuronal brain growth that allows for a feelings safety and security to settle in. Once this happens, parents can begin to enjoy that “dream family” once again. 

10 Principles of an Aware Parent

I just learned about Dr. Aletha Solter’s book and principles of Aware Parenting. I don’t know why it took so long to become acquainted with her work but her ideas are extremely close to my own thoughts on parenting. Her ideas are timely in this day of discovery about the healing aspects of mindfulness. Read through her 10 Principles and see where they resonate with your own parenting thoughts. Source: http://www.awareparenting.com/english.htm “1. Aware parents fill their children’s needs for physical contact (holding, cuddling, etc.). They do not worry about "spoiling” their children.

2. Aware parents accept the entire range of emotions and listen non-judgmentally to children’s expressions of feelings. They realize that they cannot prevent all sadness, anger, or frustration, and they do not attempt to stop children from releasing painful feelings through crying or raging.

3. Aware parents offer age-appropriate stimulation, and trust children to learn at their own rate and in their own way. They do not try to hurry children on to new stages of development.

4. Aware parents offer encouragement for learning new skills, but do not judge children’s performance with either criticism or evaluative praise.

5. Aware parents spend time each day giving full attention to their children. During this special, quality time, they observe, listen, respond, and join in their children’s play (if invited to do so), but they do not direct the children’s activities.

6. Aware parents protect children from danger, but they do not attempt to prevent all of their children’s mistakes, problems, or conflicts.

7. Aware parents encourage children to be autonomous problem-solvers and help only when needed. They do not solve their children’s problems for them.

8. Aware parents set reasonable boundaries and limits, gently guide children towards acceptable behavior, and consider everyone’s needs when solving conflicts. They do not control children with bribes, rewards, threats, or punishments of any kind.

9. Aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful.

10. Aware parents strive to be aware of the ways in which their own childhood pain interferes with their ability to be good parents, and they make conscious efforts to avoid passing on their own hurts to their children.

Aware Parenting is based on the work of Dr. Aletha Solter. For more information, please see Dr. Aletha Solter’s books, The Aware BabyHelping Young Children Flourish, Tears and Tantrums, and Raising Drug-Free Kids