This time of year, many school children are taking part in safety drills that include what to do if there’s an intruder or violence at their school. It’s not a subject anyone likes to bring up with children of any age, but it’s a reality kids face today. Kristine Sorensen talks with parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa, also known as Dr. G, about how to have this difficult conversation and why it’s so important.
Here’s their edited interview:
Kristine Sorensen: Dr. G, you say there are two main reasons why parents tend to avoid bringing up this subject. What’s the first?
Dr. G: The first is that we so don’t want our kids to have to feel these things or think about these things. We think the less they think about it, the better. So, we tend to not want to bring it up when it’s not a pressing issue. The problem is that our kids feel stuck. They feel like we’re not somebody they can talk to about this. So, we have to give our kids the opportunity to process their feelings, thoughts and questions about this with their most trusted adult, and that’s us parents.
Kristine: I can definitely relate to that. What’s the second reason?
Dr. G: We’re afraid of those questions they’re going to ask us – things that we don’t have answers to: “Why would somebody do this?” “Could this happen at my school?” We’re terrified of those facts, and so we shy away from what we’re afraid of. The problem is that not asking our kids puts them in a spot of thinking, “This is a forbidden topic. I don’t want to make my parent upset. We shouldn’t discuss it.”
Instead, discuss it and let your child ask questions. It is completely valid to say to your child, “I don’t know, but you’re learning what you can do to be safe.” That’s how the world is, just like with a fire drill.
Kristine: What do you say when your child says, “Could this happen at my school?”
Dr. G: You can say, “There’s a small possibility that it could. I really believe that it won’t, but I’m really glad you’re learning what you can do so that you can be in charge of your safety. What did you learn? Who would you listen to? What would you do?”
Kristine: Could you take this a step further, as a family or a community, to try to do something to stop school violence?
Dr. G: Absolutely. If you can, take that next step and be proactive. Say to your child, “I want to help in whatever way makes sense to you and your values and to fight this fear.” You’re showing your kids that it’s not about cowering and being afraid. It’s about noticing something that you feel is wrong and stepping up in a way that makes sense to you to try and fight that wrong.