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December 17, 2012 1

How Do We Talk to the Children?

The recent news of the shoot­ings of 20 young chil­dren and six adults at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Con­necti­cut has had a dev­as­tat­ing impact on both youth and adults across the coun­try. In the face of this sense­less vio­lence, many are at a loss to find the words to express the depth of their feel­ings. Despite our best efforts to pro­tect chil­dren from the details of such inci­dents, they are often more aware than we imag­ine of what is hap­pen­ing in the world around them. When fright­en­ing and vio­lent inci­dents occur, chil­dren and teens are likely to expe­ri­ence a range of emo­tions, includ­ing fear, con­fu­sion, sad­ness and anger that can man­i­fest in many dif­fer­ent ways.

To coun­ter­act fear and help chil­dren feel safe, par­ents, teach­ers and care­givers can pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren to express how they feel and chan­nel their feel­ings into pos­i­tive actions. In order to pro­vide the reas­sur­ance and guid­ance they may need, it’s impor­tant for adults to real­ize the impact of these kinds of events on them per­son­ally and to come to terms with their own feel­ings.  Before talk­ing to your chil­dren, take time to process your own feel­ings and per­cep­tions with other adults.

Be alert to signs of upset in your chil­dren, which can include with­drawal and a lack of inter­est in engag­ing in activ­i­ties, exces­sive act­ing out, fear of going to school and other behav­iors that seem out of the ordi­nary, and pro­vide a quiet time for them to ask any ques­tions they may have.  Above all, reas­sure chil­dren in age-appropriate ways that they are safe. When talk­ing to preschool­ers, for exam­ple, your response can be sim­ple and direct: “I love you and I will always do every­thing I can to make you safe.”

Dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions like this can be an oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss fam­ily and com­mu­nity val­ues, beliefs and tra­di­tions. You can find some help­ful guide­lines for talk­ing to chil­dren in the after­math of hate and vio­lence at:

http://www.adl.org/issue_education/Hate_and_violence.asp

http://www.adl.org/education/discussing_hate_spanish.pdf (Span­ish version)

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