Empower, Don't Scare: How to Talk About School Shootings — Kidpower Advice Featured in NBC Today Show's TODAY Moms Blog

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Kidpower's "empower, don't scare" message helps adults talk with kids after traumatic violent events, like recent fatal school shootings. TODAY Moms features Kidpower's practical and positive advice about helping kids regain emotional safety.

Kidpower featured on TODAY Moms Blog

TODAY Moms shares Kidpower's advice to "empower, don't scare kids when talking about school shootings."

Remember that how you sound can have a large impact on whether or not a child feels anxious.

Kidpower, an international nonprofit leader in abuse, bullying and violence prevention, helps adults understand how to talk to kids about violence — Parents and teachers who remember to "empower, not scare" when talking about events like the recent school shootings, will help prevent further trauma and speed young people's ability to move on.

In the wake of the school shootings this week, "I remind myself that, although their impact is huge, these events are rare and that schools are usually a safe place for young people to be," says Irene van der Zande, executive director and founder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International (Kidpower® for short). "Parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caring adults need to know how to empower children and schools rather than leaving everyone feeling that stopping violence is hopeless or that they are helpless."

"Unfortunately, most news stories about tragic acts of violence against young people make the situation sound hopeless and leave adults and kids alike feeling helpless," says van der Zande. “Children do not need our fear or despair. They need to regain emotional safety through the empowering support of the adults in their lives."

Van der Zande posted advice on the Kidpower blog on Feb. 27, shortly after the Ohio school shootings, offering parents and schools information on how to talk to kids in ways that empower and improve kids' safety, rather than scaring them further.

1. Be a calm, safe person to talk to about feelings and fears. After a frightening event, listen with empathy so that young people can talk to you about their fears without being burdened by your fears. Give them opportunities to grieve for what has happened. Acknowledge that our world is not a perfect place, but it is a wonderful place. Help kids feel empowered by making positive changes in their own communities and schools.

2. Make sure it is safe to tell at school. Figure out how the school can help kids feel safe about speaking up if someone’s behavior is worrying them, without fear of retaliation, overreaction, or being discounted. Have a plan of action for how to handle the situation when they do speak up.

3. Prepare both kids and school staff with knowledge and skills. When an attack happens, your actions in a few seconds can make a huge difference. Prepare kids to run away and get to safety if they hear or see shooting. Prepare adults to assess the situation, direct students to leave, call or text for help immediately, decide if it is the best choice to intervene with the person shooting, and figure out how to do this as safely as possible. In the Ohio school shooting, it sounds like a teacher was able to take charge of the situation, very likely preventing more violence.

4. Make sure that every student has mentoring and support. Even if they have problems, young people who feel cared for and connected are far less likely to engage in violence than those who feel alienated and alone. Reach out to troubled kids. Notice and reach out to anyone who seems isolated. Address bullying and other violence immediately. Commit to creating a community of caring, respect, and safety for everyone.

Van der Zande's advice was quoted the next day in NBC Today Show's Blog, TODAY Moms by Kavita Varma-White, who added, "The parents and kids of Bremerton, Wash., and Chardon, Ohio -- just like those of Littleton and Santee and DeKalb in the past -- are struggling to understand why such tragedies happened in their communities. But we all know the answer to that: Because random violence has no geographical bias... the true-but-scary “it can happen anywhere” response is hardly comforting for kids."

"Remember that how you sound can have a large impact on whether or not a child feels anxious," says van der Zande. "Parents and teachers may need to remind people to be aware of what any child might overhear or see on the news and to continue checking in with kids to address any questions or lingering concerns with empowering safety skills and by making safety plans so that kids feel safe and know what to do to get help."

For additional resources from van der Zande and Kidpower about talking with kids after traumatic events, see School Shootings: How to Empower Kids in the Face of Armed School Violence. http://www.kidpower.org/resources/articles/weapons-schools.html

About Kidpower
Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International®, known as Kidpower® (http://www.kidpower.org), is highly recommended by experts worldwide for taking a positive, skills-based approach to violence and abuse prevention. Instead of using fear to teach young people about violence prevention, the Kidpower Method™ makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that increase the skills and confidence of kids, parents, teachers and other caring adults that can last a lifetime.

Kidpower has directly served more than 2 million people of all ages and abilities, since its founding in 1989, offering workshops and an extensive free and low-cost library of articles, podcasts, blog posts, curriculum teaching kits and books, including: "Bullying — What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe," the "Kidpower Safety Comics" series, and "The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults," a comprehensive resource for adults who want to learn how to protect the emotional and physical safety of the young people in their lives. Kidpower’s newest global initiative is the "One Million Safer Kids" campaign which has the goal of making at least one million young people safer from bullying, violence, and abuse through greater awareness, action, and skills by July 1, 2016 or sooner.

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Beth McGreevy
Malachite Strategies, LLC
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Irene van der Zande, Executive Director & Founder
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