Your Child and Violence

December 17th, 2012

The tragic events in schools across the coun­try where violence has erupted have left both children and adults with feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, and confusion. The question arises in almost every news story about school vio­lence: Can the same type of thing happen here? Unfortunately, the answer is yes; violent tragedies can and do happen anywhere.

We all are affected by seemingly senseless acts of violence. They actually alter the way we live our lives, where we go, and what we do when we get there. Understandably, many parents—especially those with young children—are afraid to let their kids out of their sight for even a second.

There's no doubt about it: We live in an extremely violent world. News reports are filled with stories of murder and mayhem, relayed in gruesome detail. TV shows, movies, and videos are rampant with killings and beatings. Violent video games get more vivid, intense, and popular each year. It's no wonder so many kids grow up believing that the "bad people" are around every corner, and that the only ways to handle conflict are violent ones.

So how can we help our children feel safe in this environment, especially after they have been affected—whether directly or indirectly—by a violent incident? First and foremost, we must talk with our children. We all know that ignor­ing an unpleasant incident will not make it go away, sometimes it is easier to remain silent. Remember, however, that your silence actually may contribute to your child's feelings of anxi­ety and insecurity.

Talk About It

Here are a few suggestions for opening the lines of communication with your child:

  • Never assume your child is unaware of what has happened. Kids pick up everything, espe­ cially your reactions.
  • Realize that you can talk honestly about a violent incident \vithout going into unneces­ sary graphic detail.
  • Share your own feelings about the situation. It may help your child to know that you are afraid sometimes, too.
  • Answer your child's questions as honestly and completely as you can.
  • Encourage your child to talk about his or her concerns and feelings-in general, as well as in response to a particular incident.
  • If your child is hesitant to discuss an incident, ask what he or she has heard about it and how this makes him or her feel.
  • Never minimize your child's anxieties or fears. Avoid making statements such as, "There's nothing to be afraid of." Remember our lives, where we go, and what we do when we get there. UnderstandablY, manv parents­ especially those with young children-are afraid that v. our child's fear is verv

Reassure Your Child

Listening to and acknowledging your child's fears is an important first step in reassuring your child. real. Here are some other effective ways to meet your child's need for assurance:

  • Reaffirm all the ways vou and vour family, your child's teachers, and others work to keep your child safe. Talk through specifics, including the way you secure your house or apart­ ment, how you arrange your child's time away from you, any neighborhood watch or community effort, and school safety plans.
  • Let your child talk through what he or she would do in case of a crisis at school or home—even if some of your child's fears seem extreme. Children sometimes need to "talk it through" several times to reassure themselves.
  • Visit or be as visible as you can in the arena where your child is most afraid, whether it is at school, at a neighborhood playground, or somewhere else.
  • Teach your child age-appropriate ways to call for help, to be safe, and to practice self­ defense. Include the basics for a younger child, such as knowing his or her last name, home address, and phone number; your name and where you work; and how to dial 911. The National Crime Prevention Council and the Polly Klaas Foundation offer help­ful information to parents on child safety.

Limit and Supervise Media Exposure

Perhaps one of the most important measures you can take to help your child cope with his or her fears related to violence is to limit and supervise your child's exposure to the media, especially TV news reports. Many experts believe that although news programming is educational, most young children and many older children cannot handle or process in a healthy way the frightening images presented in news broadcasts. Research has further shown that the younger the child is, the longer the negative effects last. It doesn't help matters that some of the most sensational news stories are the ones that involve violence to children.

Of course, with the exception of very young children, it is impossible to shelter children from all media coverage of violent events; and with older children, it is unwise to try to do so. The key words to remember are limit and supervise. The younger the child, the more you will want to limit or eliminate exposure.

Whatever your child's age, watch news reports together and discuss what you have seen and heard as well as how you feel about it.

Help to Create Safe Envirnoments

Beyond talking with your child, what can you do to keep your child safe from violencer There are no short-term answers. Many of the most tragic events reported in the news appear to be random and hard to predict. For long-term change, you can work with your church, com­munity, and family to create safer places.

Creating a safer home. Practicing some basic safety measures will help your child—and yourself—feel better about safety. You will want to give some careful thought to the safety mea­sures that will make your home a safer place. Here are a couple of examples to help you get started:

  • Monitor your child's use of the internet. This not only protects your child from age-inappropriate and frightening sites, but it also helps to keep your child safer from internet predators who want to contact youngsters. Make sure that your child knows never to reveal any personal information—even name and age—to strangers online.
  • Make gun safety an important issue in your home. Thirteen children die each day in the U.S. from gunshot wounds; four times as many are wounded. Many of these incidents are not the result of violence in schools or neighborhoods; rather, they are self-inflicted acts or accidents resulting from access to guns in the home. If you choose to have a gun in your home, practice and teach stringent gun safety. Whether you own firearms or not, talk to your child about guns and gun safety. Know about the households your child visits and talk to the parents about their views on firearms.

Creating a safer church. A church forms a safe haven for families. There are precautions that any congregation can take to assure the highest level of safety for children. For help, see Safe Sanctuaries, featured in the Recommended Resources section.

Creating safer schools. The National PTA suggests a number of ways that parents can work with teachers and administrators to cre­ate safer schools. Their website offers a wealth of good information. The Department of Education, the National PTA, and seventeen other education and men­tal health associations issued a report in 1998 titled "Early Warning, Timely Response." This report outlines characteristics of a safe school and offers help for setting up crisis interven­tion, getting help for troubled children and creating prevention plans and emergency plans.

When and Where to Turn for Help

With patience and open communication, you and your child should be able to work through your fears and concerns together. If, however, you are worried about your child's reaction or have ongoing concerns about his or her behav­ior or emotions, seek help from other resources: a teacher who is familiar with your child, a guidance counselor, a pastor or Christian counselor, a psychologist, or a crisis hot line. An outside perspective often can pro­vide a beneficial alternative.

To easily find a certified family therapist in your area, try the online directory for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy or ask your pastor, the school counselor or local mental health associate for a resource list.

Warning Signs Indicating a Tendency for Violence

Though there is no way to consistently pre­dict violence, psychologists have developed lists of behaviors that may indicate a tendency for violence in children of all ages. Individually, many of the behaviors are not problems. Children with violent tendencies usually exhib­it several of these signs, showing the signs fre­quently and at an increasing intensity over time. If you observe these behaviors repeatedly in your child or in his or her classmates, seek help from a Christian counselor, your child's school, or a family therapist.

Very Young Children

  • Engages in play with violent themes
  • Is cruel to other children
  • Seems unusually detached from parents
  • Multiple temper tantrums and aggressive outbursts in single day

School-Age Children

  • Cruel toward pets or other animals
  • Patterns of impulsive hitting; tries to con­trol others through violence
  • Difficulty accepting criticism or teasing; reacts with rage or blame
  • Poor academic performance; difficulty par­ticipating in the classroom
  • Drawn to violence in TV, movies, video games
  • Has trouble making and keeping friends due to his or her behavior
  • Overly violent drawings, writing, or poetry if the violence depicted is toward a specific individual or group
  • Reflects intense prejudices and intolerance toward others based on race, ability, appear­ance, or sexual orientation


  • Consistently insensitive to the feelings of others
  • Relies on physical violence to get what he or she wants
  • Expresses feelings of persecution and isolation often
  • Poor academic performance; often skips school or drops out
  • Substance abuse
  • Involved in crimes that show disrespect of authority and property

Faith Perspective

In the aftermath of violence, it is natural to question God and even to be angry at God. Yet God understands our hurt, our pain, our confusion, and our fear. Though at times we may feel alone or abandoned, tlhe truth is that God is always with us and will never desert us. It is especially important for children to know that God watches over them and is with them wherever they go. Here are a few scriptures you may want to share with your child: Psalm 23:4; Psalm 91:11-13,15; Matthew 10:29-31; Romans 8:35-39.

The Bible also assures us that God is greater than our fears. God not only comforts us; God gives us the strength to conquer our fears: Psalm 27:1; Psalm 46; John 14:27; John 16:33.

During times of fear and anxiety, remember that prayer can bring comfort and peace—a peace that surpasses' all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Pray for your child and with your child, never doubting that God both hears and answers prayer.

Recommended Resources

Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them, by Joanne Cantor (Harvest Books, 1998).
Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in the Church, by Joy Thornburg Melton (Discipleship Resources, 1998).

For Older Children (Ages 10-14)
The Safe Zone, by Donna Chaiet and Francine Russell (Morrow Junior Books, 1998)

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