How to talk to your kids about school violence

School is supposed to be a safe space where children and teens learn, make friends, and grow. Unfortunately, for many children and teens across Canada, school violence is part of their school experience.

how to talk to your kids about school violence

What is school violence?

When we hear the term “school violence,” our minds may immediately think of extreme examples, such as school shootings. But violence does not just mean physically violent attacks. Bullying is a form of violence because it is intended to hurt someone physically, emotionally or mentally. 

In their report “Bullying Prevention in Schools,” The Government of Canada breaks bullying down into two main categories, physical and psychological.

 Physical bullying includes:

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Pushing/shoving
  • Stealing

Psychological bullying is divided into two categories, verbal and social. 

Verbal Bullying includes:

  • Insults
  • Name-calling
  • Comments about how someone looks or talks
  • Threats

Social bullying includes:

  • Gossiping
  • Rumours
  • Ignoring
  • Purposefully not including someone in group activities.

The results of all of these forms of bullying can have long-lasting negative impacts on the victim. Bullying often leads to depression, anxiety, and increased levels of aggressive behaviour. Children who bully typically do not grow out of it without help and intervention.

Your child may be closer to violence than you think

Many children are bullied or know someone who is being bullied. Young people need to know and understand that bullying is a form of violence and not acceptable behaviour. 

School shootings do happen in Canada.

School shootings happen in Canada, and while they are not as common as they are in America, the harsh reality is that your child may have seen videos online depicting violence in schools. From fights to assaults to school shootings, a recent survey by the Toronto School Administrators’ Association (TSAA) found that 74% of those surveyed are having a hard time “managing student behaviour post-pandemic.” 

That same survey found that 89% of survey respondents stated they “feel ill-equipped to maintain school safety without sufficient financial and physical resources and personnel.” 50% of respondents said that a lack of training and knowledge of policies and procedures related to how to keep schools safe is negatively impacting schools. 

How to talk about to your kids about school violence

 It can be difficult trying to explain senseless acts. When discussing heavy, potentially emotionally charged topics such as school violence with your kids and teens, it is essential that they feel heard and respected. While there is no guarantee that your child will witness or be part of a violent act in school, ensuring children and teens have the knowledge and tools to process and respond to violence is vital not just when they are in school but in the “real world” as well.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends “establishing a sense of normalcy and security” when discussing school violence and their fears with children. 

Be responsible and respectable

Make sure your children understand the difference between reporting and gossiping. It is important to tell an authority figure information that can prevent harm, but spreading rumours or assumptions about someone is bullying. It can be difficult for kids to report on their peers; reporting on a serious issue anonymously or in person can help prevent violence and even save lives. 

Violence is never the answer

Reacting aggressively or lashing out is a common defence mechanism for feeling hurt. However, responding to a problem with violence will not do you any favours and often makes the situation worse, not better. 

Reduce screen time

Limit the internet or television viewing of violent events exposed to your kids. Not only can viewing these events be: developmentally inappropriate”, they can cause anxiety and confusion, especially in young children. 

It is okay to reach out for help

It is normal for kids, especially teens, to struggle with opening up to parental or authoritative figures. 

Establishing a network of resources they can access, such as the Kids Help Phone or other helplines, can help kids and teens feel safe and secure.