Parents should "check in" with their school age children to see how they're feeling about the Arkansas school yard shootings. "We need to know what children are thinking or feeling and be prepared to support them," said Ron Pitzer, family sociologist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
"We need to take kids' problems seriously," Pitzer said. "I find it hard to believe that this youngster (implicated in the shootings) would not have been expressing his distress."
When dealing with your own children, Pitzer said, you may need to correct some misconceptions. For example, during the Desert Storm crisis a young child asked why "a rock," meaning Iraq, was such a problem.
Children should be reassured about their own safety. Inner city kids may have very real fears about a school shooting, Pitzer said, but it's a very remote possibility for the majority of children in rural and suburban schools.
"Don't let kids glorify this action," Pitzer emphasized. "Some boys may say 'how cool' or 'he showed them.' And some girls may say 'how romantic, I wish I had a boy who loved me enough to be that broken up.'"
Emphasize the unacceptability of violence to settle issues or solve problems. "We must constantly emphasize that violence does not work," he said.
Don't pooh-pooh the apparent motivation (a broken heart), and be careful about what you say in the presence of kids. "If you say, 'Broken hearted? A 13 year-old? Get real!' you will lose credibility with kids in the pre- and early-teen years," Pitzer said.
"Emphasize that broken hearts are painful, but people don't die from them and they do heal, often quickly. In addition, broken hearts cannot be resolved this way."
"Remember that young children react largely to the attitudes and emotional responses of those around them," Pitzer said. "For children, the meaning of an event is drawn more from other's reactions than from the event itself."
Pitzer said children who are distressed may act in ways that aren't clearly connected to the event. They may mope, be irritable or aggressive.
Pitzer listed some learning principles for children that parents should reinforce over time:
- Think before you act. Impulsiveness doesn't work.
- Take responsibility for actions and consequences.
- Consider your effects on others, and the rights of others.
- Be aware and concerned about peers in distress. "Early teens generally are not sensitive to their peers, but we should emphasize this anyway," Pitzer said.
- Learn to deal with anger, loss and other emotions.
- Violence is not a solution, it is not acceptable and it is not cool.
- Talk about right and wrong, conscience, empathy and compassion.
- Act on your own conscience. Young children especially need to learn not to follow others blindly.
Don't give up because your children act like they're not
paying any attention to you. "Some of it is getting through,"