Talking to Children about Violent Tragedies
Less than two months into 2018, there have already been 18 shootings at schools in the US. The recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a shooter killed 17 and injured more than 10, is the latest violent tragedy in the U.S. These crimes are frightening enough to adults, but what do children think when they hear about them—either on the news or at school?
Carmella Prescott, licensed mental health counselor for Daniel Kids, Florida’s oldest child-service agency, offers tips on how parents can discuss these violent crimes with their children in a way that can acknowledge their fears while also calming them.
Age Factors Regarding Tragedy Discussions with Kids:
Children’s age and individual personalities influence their reactions to stories they hear and images they see about violent acts in the newspapers and on television.
- Preschool-age children confuse facts with their fears and fantasies of danger.
- School-age kids can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, but they sometimes blend the two and think things are worse than they are.
- Middle school- and high school-age children may actually show interest in helping those directly affected by violent acts.
Best Practices in Discussing Tragedies with Kids:
- Give children the facts. Contrary to parents’ fears, talking about violent acts will not increase a child’s fear. Open discussion is better than children keeping their scared feelings to themselves. Use simple words to explain what has happened. Explain that it can be scary for everyone, but that adults do their best to keep children safe.
- Encourage children to ask questions. Their questions will help you understand what they know about the situation and allow you to give child-friendly answers to those questions. Make it clear that you’re open to talking about whatever they bring up.
- Offer comfort. Children often take their cues from you; when you react, they react. Try to model a sense of calm. Answer even repeated questions honestly and simply. Reassure children that they are safe with you and that you will take care of them.
- Monitor media use. Avoid having children watch or see repeated images of the violence. Younger children might think the event is happening over and over.
- Help children find ways to express themselves. Some children may not want or be able to discuss their thoughts, feelings or fears. At Daniel Kids, we’ve learned that some children are more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys or writing stories directly or indirectly related to the tragedy.
Support for Ongoing Fears in Kids Regarding Tragedies:
- Acknowledge children’s fears. If children tell you that they are afraid of something, validate their fears. Reassure them that it’s okay to be concerned, but let them know that random acts of violence are just that—random.
- Avoid what if fears. Offer reliable, honest information, but assure your children that they are safe with you. Maintaining routines and structure is calming to children and helps normalize an event or restore a sense of safety.
- Also, as I said earlier, it’s important for parents to comfort their children.
This past year’s presidential election has been one filled with controversy from the major party candidates. Many of the candidates’ comments and positions have alarmed Americans on both sides of the aisle – and have made their way to the ears of children who may have serious questions for their parents.
With the final presidential debate coming up on Wednesday, Jim Clark, president and CEO of Daniel Kids and licensed social worker, discusses how parents can discuss campaign negativity and fear mongering with their children.
Discussing Campaign Negativity
In an election as emotionally charged as this one, many children are seeing angry people on TV or sensing their parents’ anxiety about one candidate or the other being elected. What seems like heated discussions among adults, can be very scary for children who think their family or country may be in danger.
- Reassure Your Children – Reassure your children that they are safe and, that no matter who is elected, our government was designed for nonviolent change leadership with a system of checks and balances. Allow them to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel.
- Try to Stay Balanced – You may have very strong opinions in regard to the election, but it’s important to tell your children why you feel that way. Younger kids in particular have a tendency to assume their parents' political views and parties without much thought or understanding. Encourage them to come to their own conclusions and to be able to explain their positions.
- Teach Your Children Good Political Etiquette – This is especially important for teenagers who are more informed and may be discussing the issues with each other. Help them to understand that people often get emotional or offended with political discussions, but no matter what, you should always treat others with respect. It’s also important to encourage them to tell you or a teacher if they feel targeted or bullied for their political beliefs.
Using Politics as a Positive Tool
- Connect Issues to Everyday Life – The presidential race is obviously the biggest election in the country with issues that can be confusing to children and teens. Try to boil down and connect big issues like immigration and foreign policy to everyday life as a way to open up clear, relatable discussions. Helping children identify topics that are important and relevant to their lives will help them grasp why every vote counts.
- Learn with Them – If your child asks questions to which you don’t have an answer, take time to look up the information together by surfing the web. Focus on finding accurate, unbiased sources or looking at a variety of sources. Capitalize on your kids’ natural curiosity to help them build a solid base of knowledge on how our political system works.
- Promote the Importance of Voting – Be a role model by setting a positive example that lets your kids know you value the right to vote. Starting at a young age, take them along with you to a voting booth, so that they can get a good view of the political process. If not, make sure they see you wearing your sticker proudly to help them grow up knowing that every vote matters.
Major Children’s Issues of 2015
Today’s parents have to help their kids face both the traditional challenges of childhood as well as new ones presented by online and social media. A 2015 National Poll on Children’s Health shed light on what parents are most concerned about when it comes to their kids.
Carmella Prescott, licensed mental health counselor from Daniel Kids, discusses some of the major children’s issues identified last year and how parents can deal with them in 2016 and beyond.
Top 10 Problems Facing Children
We learned from the 2015 National Poll on Children’s Health that parents believe the top 10 biggest children’s problems are:
- Childhood Obesity
- Drug Abuse
- Internet Safety
- Child Abuse and Neglect
- Smoking and Tobacco Use
- School Violence
- Teen Pregnancy
Growing Concern Over Internet Safety and Sexting
While childhood obesity, bullying and drug abuse continue to be major issues, what stood out this year is the increasing concern about Internet safety and sexting. Both moved up quite a bit on the list from 2014, with Internet safety rising four places and sexting moving up seven.
As children and teens spend more time online, parents are concerned about predators, cyber-bullying and the many dangers of sexting. Although tech-savvy teens can be difficult to monitor, parents can and should take proactive measures to protect their children online.
Discuss online behavior and rules. Outline firm rules for your children regarding online behavior. Two important rules for younger kids are to never give away their personal information and keep the location portions of Internet sites and apps turned off. For teens, it’s critical to stress that everything they post lives somewhere out there forever – even with platforms like Snapchat where posts seem to appear for only a few seconds. Keep the guidelines by where your children typically use their devices or posted somewhere prominently in your home to help remind them. If they do break rules, take away their Internet or device privileges for a time.
Monitor behavior. Keep an eye on where your kids are going online by checking their browser history. If the history is cleared that may be a sign your child is hiding something. You may choose to invest in monitoring software, like Net Nanny or WebWatcher, which filters and blocks inappropriate sites.
Place computers and chargers in a central location. Putting computers in common areas makes it easier to see what children are doing online. Even if your family tends toward laptops or tablets, you can still set parameters that they should use them in a central location. Another tool parents can employ is a central charging station for all the family’s phones and tablets rather than individual chargers. Using one will reduce the time teens spend on their phones before bed, which not only can deter unwanted behaviors, but will also result in a better night’s sleep.
Child Abuse and Neglect
For so many years, child abuse has been an issue that was never discussed. It’s good this is being acknowledged – especially because locally as many as eight child-abuse cases are reported every day. And that’s just the ones that are reported. At Daniel Kids, we work with kids who have been abused and neglected and see firsthand the negative affects it has on them mentally, physically and emotionally. If you suspect a child may be being abused or neglected, look out for these warning signs:
- Behavioral changes such as withdrawal, depression and aggression
- Changes in school performance and attendance, such as an inability to concentrate in class or frequent absences
Consistently bad hygiene and ill-fitting, dirty or weather-inappropriate clothing
Under Florida law, it is the duty of any person living in the state to report suspicion of child abuse. If you feel a child is in immediate danger, call 911. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the Florida Abuse Hotline, which is 1-800-96-ABUSE. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Learning Loss Over Winter Break
Information from Monica Henderson-Ojo, past principal of Daniel Academy
Winter break is almost here for students, with December 18 being the last day of the semester for Duval County Public Schools. Although it is a time for children to celebrate the holidays with family, some educators are concerned that the two- or three-week break can result in learning loss. Learning loss is a trend where students lose academic skills and knowledge after spending time out of school. Parents can prevent this by using several strategies to keep their children’s minds active.
The Risk of Learning Loss
The danger of learning loss during the winter break is that it’s very easy for students to get out of the learning mode, and when they return to school, it can take teachers several days or weeks to get them re-acclimated. The time teachers have to take reviewing what students have already learned slows down the classroom. Although learning loss is a bigger issue over summer break, according to the U.S. Department of Education, any extended time when students don’t engage in educational activities can lead to learning loss.
Parents should strike a balance this holiday season, giving kids time to relax but also engaging them in fun, mentally stimulating activities.
How to Prevent Learning Loss
Take advantage of technology: Kids love computer games and apps, and at Daniel Academy, we use technology as a learning tool because it highly engages students. Many children already have access to online learning programs from their schools, and they can use those during the break. Parents, make sure you get those access codes before they leave on the 18th. Some programs we recommend at Daniel Academy are:
- i-Ready, a computer program that builds reading and math skills for students K through 12
- Reflex, a game-based program that tests various math skills for grades 2 and above
For older students, instead of trying to enforce strict time limits on phone use, encourage your kids to use educational, fun apps like Math Bingo, Khan Academy and TED. Since it is the holidays, students only need to engage with these programs two or three times a week—enough to keep their minds active while also letting them have a break.
Tips to Incorporate Education into the Holidays
Practice shared reading: Reading is a great method to keep your child’s mind active. Encourage older kids to keep up the 30 minutes per day of reading that most schools require. For younger kids, parents can make reading a bonding experience with shared reading, a learning method that involves parents and children reading together. For example, a parent would read aloud one page, and a child would recite the next. You can add a holiday twist with Christmas classics like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or “Polar Express.”
Bake with your children: Connecting math and verbal skills with daily life helps students retain what they’ve learned because it’s a process of self-discovery for them. Baking or cooking is a great activity to involve children in because they have to follow directions and measure ingredients. Measuring and counting are important because math is where students tend to experience the most learning loss.
Use vacation as a learning tool: If you are traveling during the holidays, adding a learning component to your holiday vacation by going to a historical site or visiting a museum. Students will always learn more when they are creating lasting memories.
National Adoption Month
Many may not be aware, but November is National Adoption Month—a nationwide effort to bring awareness to the more than 100,000 children and youth waiting for a permanent family as well as to recognize thousands of adoptive families around the country for their contribution to child welfare.
Adoption in Florida
There are many different methods of adoptions and the questions of ease and expense varies depending on which route you choose. Many people want to adopt babies and to do that you really need to go through a private agency or attorney and sometimes even plan for an international adoption. However, I’m here today to discuss other options . . . many people don’t realize that there are plenty of children locally who need adoptive families and who can be adopted for no cost at all.
According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, at any given time as many as 600 school age and teenage children are available for adoption in Florida. There is a particular need for adoptive homes for teens, sibling groups and special needs children.
Here in Jacksonville, we currently have about 75 kids who are in foster care system waiting to be adopted. The ages of these kids typically range from 6-17.
Kids waiting to be adopted are all of different ages, races and circumstances. These children have been some pretty tough times. However, with a good loving stable family, most of these children will do fine and grow up to be successful adults.
Cost of Adopting Local Child
Where most private adoptions can cost upwards of $30,000, doing a public adoption of a foster child in Florida comes at little-to-no cost. The required training class and home study are provided for free, and court costs can often be paid for by the agency if the family cannot afford them.
How to Start the Adoption Process
To be able to adopt a foster child, you can be married or single, have parenting experience or not, be in your 50s or 20s, be a renter or a homeowner, have substantial wealth or modest means. If you are able to open your heart and home to a child and give them the love and basic care they deserve, you can be an adoptive parent.
As far as how long the process takes, it varies – but most times it takes about six to nine months. There are some general steps to the whole process:
- Call- Florida’s Adoption Information Center (1-800-96ADOPT) at Daniel Kids to get the ball rolling. Basically if you are looking to adopt we can connect you to the right resources. If your question is has the word “adoption” in it, we can help.
- P.R.I.D.E. Training (Parents' Resources for Information Development Education)- A free 30-hour class that allows you to assess your family, yourself and to explore adoption issues. (one evening per week)
- Home Study- This is the time when background checks and character references take place. A counselor will also come into your home at least once to make sure you can provide a safe and stable environment for a child. The counselor is likely to ask about your reasons for wanting to adopt, your financial situation and parenting philosophy. The whole point of the visits, background checks and references is to ensure a successful adoption for everyone involved.
- Finding the Right Match- Visit the Explore Adoption website at adoptflorida.org and do a child search. You can even put in parameters regarding sex, age and the types of special emotional or physical needs you do or don’t feel comfortable with. When you find a child or children you are interested in, contact the Adoption Information Center, they will help you get to that next step in the matching process.
- Finalization- The child will live your family for a minimum of three months before the adoption is finalized before a judge.
Bullying has always been an issue, but has become increasingly important as bullying takes on a modern form in the digital age. According to a Yale University study, victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-bullied children.
Rebecca Whitfield, director of residential programs for Daniel Kids and a licensed clinical social worker offers insights about the different types of bullying children may face, the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs and what parents can do if their child is being bullied or is the one doing the bullying.
Types & Effects of Bullying:
Bullying is defined as physical, verbal or emotional harm or intimidation intentionally directed at a person or group of people. One in every four students experiences bullying personally and nearly all students will witness bullying during their years in school. The “traditional” types of bullying we may think of include:
- Spreading rumors
- Taunting and intimidation
- Exclusion from social groups
- Physical abuse such as hitting, kicking or punching
- Today, bullying often occurs through technology, such as on social media and via cellphones—a form of abuse commonly known as cyber bullying.
Bullying has many negative health effects, both on the victims and even the bullies themselves. A study from the American Psychological Association found that children who are mistreated by their peers are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and even be at a higher risk of suicide. Children who bully others were found to have higher chance of developing substance abuse problems and depression later in life.
Effectiveness of Anti-Bullying Programs
- According to a 2013 study done for Congress, school-based bullying in schools that had active anti-bullying programs reduced bulling by about 22 percent. Other studies suggest that effective anti-bullying programs not only need to focus on changing the climate of a school, but also on emphasizing the importance of involving adults.
- Children need to feel safe at school and feel comfortable going to a teacher, coach, guidance counselor or other school official and asking for help. One way to do this is by using an anonymous reporting program. Anonymous reporting is a safe and effective resource for children who are bullied and bystanders who witness bullying- whether it is in person or on the Internet. It basically relies on texts anonymous texts or calls they receive from kids who witness or experience bullying. An example of this can be found at Cyber bullying Hotline
Actions Against Bullying:
- Due to the prevalence of cyber bullying and because even traditional in-school bullying may be alluded to on social media, it is critical for parents to monitor your child’s Internet use. Know what sites they’re on, how often they’re on and who they’re talking to.
- If your child is the one being cyber bullied or bullied at school:
- Document the occurrence. This is easier with cyber bullying of course - be sure to save harassing messages and screenshot posts on social media and websites. Use this evidence when you talk to your child’s teachers or the principal.
- Do not contact the bully or the bully’s parents over the Internet so the situation doesn’t escalate and become confrontational.
- Offer comfort and support. Make sure your child understands he or she is not at fault and that you are there to support him or her.
- Make an appointment to meet with a guidance counselor or the principal. Bring evidence of the bullying and be ready to present the situation calmly so that you can make your point without ranting.
- If you are the parent of a bully, cyber or in-person, you need to take steps to correct and understand your child’s behavior.
- If your child is harassing others online, talk to them about the impact of their actions. Kids sometimes think an online statement is not as bad as saying something hurtful to someone’s face, but this isn’t true.
- Make sure there is a consequence or punishment for their actions.