Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Families and Educators

The Maine Education Association is working to help support educators, students, families, and communities as we all cope with the senseless act of violence in Lewiston. On this page, you will find resources to help you have difficult conversations about the tragedy, how to spot signs of emotional stress and trauma, how to ensure you’re taking care of yourself, and more. 

Self-Care and Emotional Support for Educators & Their Families

Access Your MAP Benefits and Resources

As an educator in Maine, you and your family have access to speak with health professionals to support you through this time. This resource is provided, without additional cost, through the Member Assistance Program (MAP). MAP licensed clinicians will answer your calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Rest assured that any contact you have with your MAP is confidential. The Member Assistance Program is available to all school employees and their household members, regardless of whether they are enrolled in the MEABT health insurance.  The MAP program can provide support to people as they navigate and process this horrific tragedy. Access your MAP benefits and resources.

Developmentally Appropriate Comments

Keeping your comments about any tragic event developmentally appropriate is crucial. Use the following information provided by the National Association of School Psychologists to help shape your conversations based on the age of the child you’re working to support.  

All Ages

From the National Association of School Psychologists, this resource provides concrete steps to take to help guide the conversation around a mass shooting.


Daniel Tiger: When Something Scary Happens

This resource is complete with appropriate ways to explain to explain to children how to express themselves when they are afraid, and is complete with age appropriate activities.

Early Elementary School Children

Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day. 

Upper Elementary and Early Middle School Children

Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools. 

Upper Middle School and High School Students

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 that adults are responsible for keeping students safe but that they can have a role in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g., not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to school safety made by students or community members), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for their mental health needs. 

Signs a Child Might Not Be Coping Well

Beyond struggling with how to talk to a child during a crisis, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that you may also need to help support a child who may not be coping well. The organization offers the following warning signs for adults to look out for, to determine if a child is still struggling.  

Warning Signs

You may see signs that children are having difficulty adjusting. Some of things to look for are: 

  • Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking, nightmares or other sleep disturbances. 
  • Physical complaints: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache or stomachache, or generally feeling unwell. 
  • Changes in behavior: You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual. Look for signs of regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature or becoming less patient and more demanding or irritable. A child who once separated easily from their parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of tobacco, alcohol or substance use. 
  • Emotional problems: Children may experience undue sadness, depression, anxiety or fears. 

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to an unusual event or whether they are having significant problems coping, and might benefit from extra support. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s pediatrician, your child’s teacher, or a mental health professional or counselor in the school or community. 

Don’t wait for symptoms. Children often do a good job of hiding their distress. Start the discussion early, and keep the dialogue going. 

Information provided by: How to Talk With Kids About Tragedies & Other Traumatic News Events – 

NEA School Crisis Guide-Psychological First Aid

School Crisis Guide

The National Education Association has put together a comprehensive school crisis guide to help educators during an emergency. Included in the guide is support for Psychological First Aid provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Psychological first aid for students/staff/parents can be as important as medical aid. The immediate objective is to help individuals deal with the troubling psychological reactions. There are common reactions that may be expected versus what may indicate a need for more intensive intervention. 

Managing Strong Reactions To Traumatic Events 

Tips for Educators and Families to Deal With Strong Emotional Reactions

The National Association of School Psychologists understands that how adults express their emotions will influence the reactions of children. Educators and parents can help their students and own children manage their emotions and feelings by modeling healthy coping strategies. The organization offers the following guidance to help navigate both common reactions to trauma, how to recognize signs of anger, and how to help others control their anger.

Talk About Ways Kids Can Make a Positive Difference

Help Children and Youth Make a Positive Contribution

After taking care of yourself, your families, your students, and your community, The National Association of School Psychologists suggests talking to children and young people about ways they can make a positive difference following a tragedy. The NASP says the ability to take action, even in small ways, can help reduce anxiety and promote resilience. Help children and youth identify organizations they can support or things they can do either related to violence prevention or simply to make a positive contribution to their family, school, or broader community.

Source: NASP