As reports of school violence have increased, parents and educators are left in circumstances they’ve never before experienced.
According to Stanford University (2022), more than 100,000 American children attended a school where shootings occurred in 2018 and 2019. They also report that those exposed to a school shooting were likelier to use an antidepressant.
Similarly, attendance drops and average test scores decline following exposure to the violence of a school shooting, while student absenteeism and the likelihood of repeating a grade increase (Rossin-Slater, 2022). Those children are also less likely to graduate high school, be employed, and earn lower wages in their 20s than others (Rossin-Slater, 2022).
So how do we help children deal with reports of violence in schools or even if it has happened in their educational facility?
Emphasizing safety and educating children about their school’s safety protocol is an excellent first step, according to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) (2016). Parents and caregivers should take time to talk with children and let them know their feelings of anxiety, fear, depression, and more are valid. Also, encourage children to express their feelings and assist them if you can (NASP, 2016).
Parents and caregivers should make themselves available to children and look for signs of talking readiness, including hovering while the adult completes a task like the dishes or yard work (NASP, 2016). Children also benefit from outlets for expressing feelings, such as imaginative play, drawing, or creating art.
Helping children deal with school violence can be fraught with concern over giving children too much information. That’s why NASP (2016) suggests responding with an eye toward the child’s maturity level. This may mean letting them guide the conversation with their questions. Early elementary school children generally require reassurance, and general information is appropriate. In contrast, upper elementary and early middle school children ask many questions about their school’s safety protocol and what’s being done to prevent violence in schools. For older children, NASP (2016) suggests explaining the importance of students adhering to safety protocols, such as not letting strangers into the school and reporting threats responsibly (NASP, 2016).
Emphasizing routines can also help children navigate times of doubt and worry. Regular sleeping and eating schedules and plenty of opportunities for exercise help children tremendously. Additionally, NASP (2016) suggests limiting exposure to reports of violence in schools, reviewing safety procedures, and ensuring the child knows one adult at school and in the community to who they can turn in a crisis.
Discussing certain topics can help a child understand school violence or at least cope with it. These topics include talking about reporting important information to adults and their role in school safety. NASP (2016) suggests, “Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous, or frightened.” Parents and caregivers can also talk about why these events happen and how mental illness sometimes plays a role.
Lastly, children can benefit from seeing parents and caregivers who successfully navigate school violence occurrences. By caring for their mental health, these individuals can impart their successful strategies and help children through difficult times.
For more information on mental health and coping tools, talk to our therapists at Breathe Easy Therapy Services. You can contact us here.
Deb, P., & Gangaram, A. (2021). Effects of School Shootings on Risky Behavior, Health and Human Capital (No. w28634). National Bureau of Economic Research.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2016) Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers. https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-safety-and-crisis/school-violence-resources/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers
National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Violent Deaths at School and Away From School and School Shootings. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/a01.
Rossin-Slater, Maya. (2022) Surviving a school shooting: Impacts on the mental health, education, and earnings of American youth. Stanford University Institute for Economic and Policy Research. https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/health/surviving-school-shooting-impacts-mental-health-education-and-earnings-american