Talking with students about school and community violence

  • Whether violence happens in a nearby school, a regional mall or somewhere across the country it can have a very real and profound impact on children. Many may ask, “Could this happen to me?” The tips below can be used by school staff or parents to talk with students about school violence. If a situation is especially impactful or causing intense reaction, San Juan Unified can deploy counseling resources to school sites to assist in conversations.

    1. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Students may feel uneasy or unsure of what they’re feeling and therefore be reluctant to come to you. Ask your student how they’re feeling about the situation.

    2. Listen: In times of stress, students and adults alike, will need an outlet and someone to talk with.

    3. Acknowledge and reassure: Let students know that their feelings are legitimate. Don’t use dismissive language such as “don’t worry, it will all be okay”. Instead acknowledge a student’s feelings and reassure them that the entire community is focused on keeping them safe and will be working to do everything possible to keep something like the tragedy from ever happening again.

    4. Share information in an age appropriate way:

      With younger children be sure to use words they’ll understand and don’t go into specific detail because it will often be more scary and less understood.

      With older students, who have likely seen multiple media reports and social media posts, acknowledge the facts of the situation. Don’t let them focus too much on the graphic details but ask them about their feelings and concerns and focus your discussion on what they share. This group is mature but they still need to be reassured that they are safe.

    5. Don’t lie. A student may ask, “Could this happen here?” Reiterate the efforts in the community to ensure everyone is safe from law enforcement, to school officials and parents. Take the opportunity to stress the importance that they report any concerning social media posts, verbal statements made by other children or rumors they hear to a trusted adult.

    6. Watch for physical and behavioral symptoms of stress: Headaches, stomach aches, increased arguing, irritability, trouble sleeping or eating, loss of concentration, nightmares, withdrawal, refusing to go to school or clingy behavior. These could be signs that a child is distressed even if they’re not talking about it.

    7. Ask for help: If you think a student may not be reacting well to the tragedy, seek additional resources including the help of a school counselor, family doctor or local mental health professional.


Last Modified on February 15, 2018