Parents should hide own fears while discussing school violence, counseling professor says
School violence has captured news headlines recently, prompting President George W. Bush to hold a national conference this past week to discuss safety in schools.
During the last two weeks, five girls died when a gunman entered an Amish school in Pennsylvania and killed them and wounded five others; several female students were sexually assaulted and one was killed by a another gunman who entered a Colorado high school; and a principal was shot and killed by a student at a Wisconsin high school. Earlier this week, a student fired a rifle inside his middle school in Joplin, Mo., but did not hit anyone before being apprehended by police.
With incidents like these dominating the headlines, the director of the Child and Family Resource Clinic at the University of North Texas, says parents should be careful not to respond with fear in front of their children.
"If parents are panicked or worried about sending their child to school, the child will often sense this fear and develop his or her own fears," says Dr. Dee Ray, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Development and Higher Education at UNT and a licensed professional counselor. "If schools overreact by becoming overly cautious and reactive, children will again respond with fear."
Ray offers these tips to parents for talking to their children about school violence:
Read or watch news stories about school violence with your children, then ask them if they have questions. "Try to respond to their questions in calm manner so that children are reassured by your calmness that everything will be okay for them," Ray says.
But don't overexpose children to news reports, she advises. "The past few events have been discussed and shown on television ad nauseum. This can be disturbing for children," she says.
Promise your children that you will always try to protect them. "Children need to be reassured that things will be OK and that you will always do your best to keep them safe," Ray says.
Don't be too logical with young children. "Using logic such as, 'This has never happened before in your school, so it won't happen now,' is not reassuring to children, but your calmness and confidence is," Ray says
To prevent children from engaging in violence in schools, Ray advises parents to teach and model nurturance and empathy.
"Approaching school violence from a purely law enforcement perspective ignores the importance of prevention of the problem," she says. "It has to be approached through care, concern, and relationships between children and their parents and teachers."