A Note to AFS Host Parents -
In response to ongoing concerns as it pertains to student safety and how to speak to youth surrounding youth violence, AFS-USA would like to reaffirm our dedication to the safety and well-being of our students, host families, and volunteers. We understand that events such as school shootings, and/or mass violence/domestic violence generate a range of emotions and may be very difficult to process. Recognizing that there may be questions regarding how to offer support, discuss and respond to these events in a constructive manner, AFS-USA would like to share an online resource that we have found helpful.
Here, you will find a link to an online article published by the University of Minnesota Extension which reviews key strategies and methodologies for how to speak with youth as it pertains to violence and related trauma: https://extension.umn.edu/building-youth-resilience/talking-youth-about-violence
Included in the article are links to other resources that may be helpful in facilitating dialogue in the wake of a traumatic violent event. We strongly encourage you to review the article and its contents.
To provide a snapshot of the content covered, these are several recommended approaches to consider when engaging youth on the topic of violence:
1. Make time to talk.
2. Validate their feelings.
3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
4. Review safety procedures.
5. Observe children’s emotional state.
6. Limit television and social media viewing of these events.
7. Promote physical health.
Please note that the AFS-USA Support Department is working with local volunteers to understand and best respond to the needs and concerns of our students, host families and volunteers alike. If you feel that there is a situation that may require any additional attention, please reach out to your local support volunteer They are happy to help and will respond to any situation on a case-by-case basis.
- AFS-USA Support Staff
Talking to Students about Violence: Tips for Parents
Source: National Association of School Psychologists (https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/school-violence-resources/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers)
High-profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten students, who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help students feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.
- Reassure students that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let students talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
- Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient; students do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some students prefer writing, playing music, or doing a creative project as an outlet to help them identify and express their feelings.
- Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
- Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help students identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
- Observe their emotional state. Some students may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a level of anxiety or discomfort. In most teens, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some students may be at risk for more intense reactions. Students who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of a mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
- Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of students and limit students’ exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
- Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that students get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Students
- Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
- The school building is safe because … (cite specific school procedures).
- We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
- There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
- Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect you (our school community).
- Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
- Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
- Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.
- Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.
After an Emergency Drill or School Safety Situation: Common Reactions to Trauma
Trauma can change the way that students view their world. Students may feel unsafe and insecure about situations and places they normally would enjoy. Their reactions to trauma will depend upon how closely they were involved with the people involved in the trauma, their personality, their cultural values and norms, their preferred way of handling situations, and the type and amount of support they have in their life. It is common for students to have difficulty controlling their emotions or to become disinterested in normal activities. A constructive way to view this situation is that students are normal people involved in an abnormal circumstance.
It is natural for students to first experience some sort of denial. Fears, worries or nightmares are common following a trauma. Sleep disturbances or eating difficulties may happen. Also, students may begin to regress emotionally or act younger than their age. They may become more clingy, unhappy and needy of parental attention and comfort. Feelings of irritability, anger, sadness or guilt may often emerge. Somatic complaints such as headaches, stomachaches or sweating are not unusual. Students may repeatedly relive the trauma by acting it out in activities or dreams. Others may seek to avoid all reminders of the trauma by withdrawing from relationships, refusing to discuss their feelings, or avoiding activities that remind them of the people or places associated with the trauma. Some loss of interest in school, misbehavior, and poor concentration are other common reactions. These symptoms may range from mild to severe. More severe symptoms may indicate that students are experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Depression. Students, as well as host families, need to be aware of how to cope as well as seek assistance and support.