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

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

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Santa Cruz, CA (PRWEB) February 29, 2012 —

Kidpower–an international nonprofit leader in abuse, bullying, and violence prevention–helps adults understand how to talk to kids about violence. Therefore, 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.

With attention to the numerous school shootings, founder and executive director of Kidpower Irene van der Zande reminds herself that “although their impact is huge, these events are rare and that schools are usually a safe place for young people to be.” Irene makes it clear that everyone should feel that stopping violence is not hopeless. Instead, “parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caring adults need to know how to empower children and schools.”

School Shootings: You CAN help. Take charge, be comforting, empower.

School Shootings: You CAN help. Take charge, comfort, empower.

Shortly after the Ohio school shootings, van der Zande posted the following advice on the Kidpower blog on February 27. In this case, she offered parents and schools information on how to talk to kids in ways that empower and improve kids’ safety, rather than scaring them further.


Unfortunately, “most news stories frame tragic acts of violence against young people to be hopeless and leave adults and kids alike feeling helpless,” explained van der Zande. Certainly, it is important to realize that “children do not need our fear or despair. They need to regain emotional safety through the empowering support of the adults in their lives.”



4 Skills for Supporting Emotional Safety and Empowering after a Shooting


1. Be a calm, safe person to talk to about feelings and fears.

After a frightening event, listen with empathy. In detail, this ensures that they can talk to you about their fears without being burdened by your fears. Additionally, give them opportunities to grieve for what has happened. With this in mind, acknowledge that our world is not a perfect place, but it is still 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.

In other words, figure out how the school can encourage kids to feel safe about bringing attention to someone’s abnormal behavior. Children and young adults should be able to talk without fear of retaliation, overreaction, or being discounted. Ultimately, it is important to have a plan of action to handle the situation when brought about.

3. Prepare kids and school staff with knowledge and skills.

Consequently, when an attack happens your actions within 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. Adults can direct students to leave, call or text for help immediately, decide if it is the best choice to intervene with the person shooting, and figuring out how to intervene as safely as possible. In the Ohio school shooting, a teacher was able to take charge of the situation, preventing more violence.

4. Make sure that every student has mentoring and support.

Notably, young people who feel cared for are unlikely 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.

School Shootings can Happen Anywhere – Take Charge of Emotional Safety

NBC Today Show’s Blog, Moms, quoted Van der Zande’s advice. Kavita Varma-White 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. In general, we must realize that random violence has no geographical bias… the true-but-scary “it can happen anywhere” response is hardly comforting for kids.

“Remember what you say and do can have a significant impact on whether or not a child feels anxious,” says van der Zande. For instance, “parents and teachers could remind people to be aware of what any child might overhear or see on the news.” Furthermore, in addition to continuously checking in with kids to address any lingering concerns, it is crucial to make safety plans so that kids feel safe and know what to do to get help.

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

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If you would like more information on this topic, or to schedule and interview with Executive Director Irene van der Zande, please call the Kidpower Central Office at (831) 227-4723 or email safety@kidpower.org.