Yesterday, a potential act of violence was nipped in the bud by a high school student who had the courage to report a classmate’s threat. That high school, Staples HS, is in the lovely, affluent town of Westport, CT, where my older brother and his then future wife attended school. The Newtown shootings were in the same county where I grew up. For the past twenty plus years, I’ve been living one county north of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas HS. I can’t get away from these horrific events.
While we debate whether and how automatic and semi-automatic guns are regulated, who should be armed, and what security measures must be taken in schools, the national discourse is missing a key point. Anger management is not being taught in schools, nor in many families. Our children need to learn how to manage strong feelings without resorting to violence. School shootings––as well as other instances of violence in households and in the streets––can be prevented if children can be educated to bridge their differences while respecting one another.
There are many programs out there that teach children about anger management and conflict resolution, however, in many cases, schools are giving priority to academic subjects, because that’s what gives them the high test scores that bring in better ratings for the school. Too often, school administrators show woeful ignorance of the fact that children who are socially and emotionally well-balanced have the greatest chance of succeeding academically. To be successful in life, and in school, it’s critical that children learn to express their feelings in a way that others can understand. Appropriate self-expression opens the gateway to good communication and the ability to understand and cooperate with others. The ability to handle stress and strong emotions is an essential life skill that parents, caregivers, and school personnel should actively encourage and cultivate in children.
When young people are given the opportunity to discuss issues that truly matter to them without being ridiculed or dismissed, they build resilience. They learn to trust others to listen and have more confidence that their needs will be met. Giving children the privilege of growing up in a climate of kindness and respect will go a long way to solving the problem of kids wanting to kill off their teachers and classmates. And, in the case that someone is left out, at least that person’s classmate will be more inclined to report him to school administrators, who will listen and will take appropriate measure to prevent an act of violence.
Peace begins at home. Let’s work to hear what all of our children are saying. Let’s practice kindness and acceptance, beginning with each other and each child. We can arm our children with the skills of emotional competence so we don’t need to build an arsenal in our schools and our homes.
To your joyful parenting!