I thought about writing this article after the massacre at the Charleston church. I considered addressing the issue after the mass shooting at the Louisiana movie theater. Rioting and the sale of baby body parts made me consider the idea too.

But killing people pointblank on live TV and bragging across various social networks made me realize our violent society won’t be getting safer any time soon.

Rather than continue to hide our heads in the sand and debate if guns or people commit murder, it’s time to start protecting the innocent victims within our sphere of influence: our kids.

They’re Not Too Young. It’s Not Too Early.

Kids are much more perceptive than you think. They are aware of what’s happening in the world. Their emotions, reactions, and opinions will be formed whether you address the issues around them or not. However, if you do choose to address the issue of violence, you can help ensure those emotions, reactions, and options are healthy.  

Strike Up a Healthy Conversation

Unsure of how to help your kids deal with the upsurge in violent situations? Here are 13 things that will make the conversation easier for both of you.

1. Notice When They Want to Talk

People process situations differently and in their own time. Your kids might not be prepared to talk when you are. Wait until they are ready. Look for signs that indicate they might be able to deal with their emotions.

  • Kids might hover in your vicinity, unsure of how to begin the conversation.
  • Sleeping or eating patterns might change.
  • There might be an upswing in violent or unusual behavior.

2. Ask What They Know

Despite your best attempts to shield your kids from information overload, they probably know more about the situation than you expect.   

Ask about what they know. This helps you determine if their understanding is accurate or not. It also helps you figure out who their sources of information are.

3. Let Your Kids Guide the Conversation

Lots of things will play into your kids’ willingness and ability to process the information, like their emotional state and vulnerability. Follow their example and let them lead. Tune into their emotions and you’ll figure out how much information to share.

4. Be Age-Appropriate, But Honest

In college, I took a course called "Death and Dying." During one of the first lessons, our professor emphasized how beneficial it is to replace politically correct terms with reality. It is tempting to say someone passed away or is no longer with us, but the reality is, that person died. The sooner we are able to accept that fact, rather than sugarcoating it to avoid pain, the quicker we can heal.

Keep that in mind as you talk with your kids. Don’t overwhelm them with inappropriate details, but don’t sugarcoat important issues to make them seem more bearable. Reality is a tough pill to swallow, but it must be done.

5. Ask Leading Questions

Use leading questions to steer the conversation towards an educational lesson. A leading question is a question that subtly prompts the child to answer in a particular way.

  • What is violence?
  • What are some examples of violent acts?
  • Is it okay to solve problems with violence? What alternative methods are available for handling conflict?
  • Have you ever been part of a violent situation? Were you hurting someone else or were you the victim? How did you feel?

6. Talk About Escalation

Discuss how easy it is for situations to escalate in violence. It might start out as name-calling, progress to threatening, involve punches, and end with a weapon.

Use dominos to show your kids how one thing can cause another. Discuss the importance of handling the situation before it escalates out of control.

7. Focus On the Act, Not the Person

When we were younger, our aunt temporarily lost her license because of too many speeding tickets. While trying to explain the situation to my cousin, her mom said, “Your aunt isn’t a bad person; she just made a bad decision.”

Help your kids focus on the act, not the person. This is especially important if your child has been victimized by a close acquaintance or friend.

8. Limit Unnecessary Exposure

It is possible to go overboard and subject your kids to information overload. Limit your youngsters’ exposure to media coverage and discussions of the violent act. Be careful of what you say amongst other adults with kids in the vicinity.

9. Explain the Difference Between Reporting and Tattling

Help kids identify potentially dangerous situations, and discuss the best ways to proceed if violent situations do or could arise. Help youngsters see the difference between reporting a potential problem, tattling on their friends, or gossiping to hurt others.

You want to keep yourself and others safe.vs.You want attention, popularity, or control over the other person.
You are concerned about safety.vs.You want to get someone else in trouble or avoid blame.
Someone may be hurt or in danger.vs.No one is hurt or in danger.
An adult is needed to solve the problem.vs.The problem is not important and can be solved without an adult.

10. Reassure Their Safety

After hearing about dangerous and violent situations, kids will understandably start to question their own safety and the safety of their loved ones.

Tell your kids about the things you do to keep them safe at home and school. Remind them of the people in their lives who help protect them: teachers, police officers, firefighters, pastors, and others.

Discuss how to stay safe in public. Tell your child how to find a trusted adult and make, sure they are familiar with your family’s contact information.

11. Be a Good Example

Kids don’t understand the expression, “do as I say, not as I do.” They do understand that “actions speak louder than words.”

Be especially attentive to your own behaviors. Remember that you taught your children violent acts are both emotional and physical.

12. Volunteer

Your kids might need a reminder that there are good people in the world, and small acts of kindness can make a big impact.

Find a family-friendly volunteer opportunity and spread some joy in the midst of tragedy.

13. Ask Again Later

Don’t sweep the situation under the rug. You might have moved on to other things, but that one violent act could stick with your kids for a long time.

Check back later. Repeat the above process. New information or emotions might have emerged. Address them. Maybe your child wasn’t ready to deal before, but is now.

Unfortunately, we live in a violent age. Our society will constantly be plagued with violence, danger, intolerance, abuse, and injustice. Rather than pretend these situations aren’t an issue, it is better — for you and your family – to face reality.