How to Dialogue with Students about Hate and Violence

Whether students encounter hate and violence first-hand or indirectly, they need guidance in coping with these issues. They may be exposed to such acts on the evening news or may even be victims themselves. From bullying to school shootings, kids are aware of serious problems that are occurring around the world. Just like the adults they are in contact with, kids feel emotions ranging from confusion to fear and from anger to sadness.

Support is vital to those encountering hate and violence. Adults with whom kids have close contact can provide the reassurance needed to improve children's mindset. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers are key figures who can give kids an outlet to express their feelings and learn the tools needed to cope with hate and violence, as well as help them learn how to act when encountered with such events. When a dialogue is held with children about these topics, opportunities for reinforcing community and family values, beliefs, and traditions arise. A trusted adult's approach to these topics can make all the difference when discussing sensitive issues with a child.

Dialogue Preparation

Before beginning the conversation with students, adults must be aware of their own feelings about the matter at hand. This includes exploring their emotions with other colleagues and friends. Know that one's own life experiences have shaped how the world is viewed. Analyzing one's own feelings will help when it comes to understanding why children may feel the way they do.

Be Aware

Are children displaying signs of agitation? Be alert to acts of withdrawal or a lack of interest in endeavors that were once enjoyed. Some kids may begin displaying disruptive behaviors. It is not rare for children under stress to show signs of fear. Be it fear of school or participating in another activity, there may be a problem to take note of when kids aren't acting like themselves.

Listen, Reflect, and Respond

Carefully listen to what children are saying to adults and their peers. This will give great insight into what students really know about the subject and how it is affecting them. Remember that what they have to say is important. No matter how misinformed a child may be, every bit of what is said is serious and demands respect. No comment should be brushed off or dismissed. Kids need to feel important and valued when sharing their concerns.

Be sure to clarify when necessary. When asked a question by a child, it is good practice to repeat what's being asked so that no misunderstandings occur. Clarifying the question allows the child a chance to clear up any ambiguities that may have been made. This is also a good opportunity for the adult to question the child about why something is being asked. Before responding, carefully consider the degree to which the question will be answered. Some details may be too graphic or intense for youngsters.

Provide Reassurance

Often, it is necessary for adults to review the facts of the violent or hateful act. A child's information may be misconstrued or grossly inaccurate. Remember that what they know (or think they know) may be information received from another child.

A child's age will determine how an adult can reassure kids that they are safe. You yourself can reassure children—even the youngest—that you care for them and will always do everything in your power to keep them safe. Remind them that you have help, too. Police, firefighters, emergency responders, and other agencies are all working to help keep us safe. Likewise, reiterate that, while some people make bad choices that harm others, we are safe most of the time.

Honesty is the Only Policy

Be clear and honest when answering students' questions and in acknowledging the evil that men do. Use age-appropriate language. This also means admitting to not having all the answers. For any question unable to be answered, attempt to find out and report what's been learned to students. Adults also don't want to misinform children, but it sometimes happens. Acknowledge any inaccuracies. Supply children with correct information as it becomes available. Admitting to mistakes is a life skill children need modeled for them.

Share Your Feelings

In the dialogue, let kids know how you feel and think about hate and violence. Avoid a hopeless outlook, however, to keep students from feeling fearful. When discussing incidents of hate and violence with kids, limit the media coverage of the event. Media hype can increase anxiety.

Be an Active Part of the Solution

Kids must learn that they and adults can do something about hate and violence. Learning to be inclusive is one way to promote tolerance and compassion. Educating kids about cultural differences and mental and physical disabilities can help kids help others fit in. Likewise, teaching kids to stand up against bullying is also empowering. Start by addressing a problem like name-calling. This is one behavior that can morph into serious acts of violence. Kids can stand up for themselves and others by simply saying, "That's not my name," or "Don't call me that." Teach kids that there are times when it's not safe to combat bullying on their own. Remind kids that adult intervention is always an option. Keep working to empower your children. They need to feel safe and positive about themselves. Working to make the world a better place is something any kid can learn to do.

For more information on talking to your children about hate and violence, visit the following sites: