Violence in today's world runs the gamut from bullying to murder, and finds fertile ground in television programs, movies, videos, and superhero games, where it's gussied up and glamorized. Violence is all around us, and it's taking its toll on children.

According to former teacher and child-development expert Dr. James Garbarino, exposure to violence in any form leaves many young children feeling scared, hopeless, and unsafe — even in their own homes. Others develop a pattern of aggressive behavior or carry a burden of discomfort that weighs heavily on their young minds.

Here's how to establish a model for a dialogue about violence, adapted from Dr. James Garbarino's Let's Talk About Living in a World With Violence.

Step 1: Start Simple

Tell students that over the next few weeks they'll be talking, writing, and drawing about violence. Emphasize that the goal is to learn to feel safe. Encourage kids to share what they learn with parents.

Step 2: How Do We Define Violence?

To help students define the word, have them look up violence in dictionaries. Most likely students will find definitions — such as "great physical force" — that don't shed much light on the actual meaning.

Then have students brainstorm and record a list of words they associate with violence, individually, in groups, or as a class. At first students will most likely come up with words that describe physical violence — such as punching or shooting. Prompt them to consider verbal violence — such as yelling and swearing — and words that hurt, such as dummy, jerk, and so on. Afterward, ask students to create their own definition of violence using these words. Invite volunteers to read their definitions to the class.

Step 3: How Does Violence Feel?

For many children it's difficult to express how violence makes them feel. To help them find the words, have them write or draw a picture of a story they know about someone getting hurt. Then ask students to describe the feelings associated with their stories — such as scared, mad, and nervous — and then discuss each feeling. Point out that although everyone experiences anger, it can lead to hurting if it's not resolved. Reassure kids that it's okay to feel scared, too.

Step 4: Why Do People Hurt One Another?

The foremost question on children's minds is: Why? To help them find answers, have kids generate a list of possibilities beginning with the word sometimes. For example: Sometimes people don't know why they hurt others; sometimes people are so angry they don't care who gets hurt; sometimes people want something and hurt others to get it. Discuss these situations.

Step 5: Take a Close-Up Look at Make-Believe Violence

Begin a discussion of this topic by pointing out that often what we see on television or in the movies isn't real, but still can be frightening. Then ask: Can make-believe violence be funny? Do some people laugh because it makes them nervous? Then try the following.

  1. Ask kids to guess how many times physical violence occurs on TV each hour in the evening (5) and during one hour of programming for kids (26). Have kids count the number of violent acts they see and then have them write about what they saw.
  2. Have children chart the most and least scary things they see on TV or in the movies during one week.
  3. Ask children to compile a list of characteristics of "good guys" and "bad guys." Ask: How do they solve problems? Is a good guy a hero? A bad guy a villain? Why?
  4. Have kids rewrite a favorite program without violence. Then talk about how to find less violent programs and movies.

Step 6: Examine Violence in the News

Bring several newspapers to class and ask students to circle photographs and words they think show and describe violence. Then ask kids to think of violence they have seen in the news on television.

Tell students that one of the ways children who live in an area where something violent is happening cope with it is to draw about it. Have kids work through their feelings about a recent act of violence they saw in the news by drawing about it.

Step 7: Violence Comes Close to Home

Although some children feel safe in their neighborhoods, others feel as if they live in a danger zone. Ask each student to draw a map showing where he or she feels safe. Have kids make a list of adults in their neighborhood who they know they can talk to or turn to for help. Then ask: What would life be like if there were no guns or other weapons in their communities? Is it necessary to have guns to catch criminals? What if police didn't have guns?