How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

Posted by on Jul 9, 2018 in Ask The Therapist | 0 comments

When a tragedy like a recent school shooting occurs, we all feel a little shaken up. Some very tough questions also come up, for kids and adults alike. “Why did this happen? Is anyone really safe? Can this happen in my town?” It’s likely your kids are thinking about it. While they may need an adult to coax them into a discussion, it’s important for parents to use this traumatic event as an opportunity to talk to their children about their fears involving school safety and reassure them that the adults around them are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

But what is the best way to do this? Well, it depends on the child. Here are some tips to follow when bringing with the topic:

The Right Time and Place: Bring up the discussion with enough time to let your child be fully heard and when you are able to address all your child’s concerns, like right after dinner. Avoid right before bedtime, so your child can process and “wind down” afterward.

Listen: It’s important that you give your child the chance to talk about his/her feelings, but keep in mind that younger children might not know how to express their concerns. You could start the conversation by asking if they “feel safe at school.” Remember to talk to your child at their level in your response. With younger kids, stick to the basic facts, using words that are meaningful to them. Too much detail can be scary and less understood.

Be Honest, But Reassuring: It’s important to acknowledge that bad things do happen sometimes, but make it clear that their entire community (parents, teachers, law enforcement) are doing everything they can to keep kids safe in school so they can learn. Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at school: visitors need to check in at office, some doors are locked during the school day, etc. These are all precautions to ensure his or her safety.

Encourage and Empower: Find ways to empower your children to take part in school safety and find positive outcomes. For younger children, if they hear that another student is getting bullied or has mentioned suicide, encourage them to notify their teacher or guidance counselor. For older children, encourage them to raise money for the families affected by the event or participate in a student run anti-violence program. Even small activities can make a difference, such as drawing or writing poetry about the experience.

Limit Exposure to News: Monitor how much exposure your child gets to media coverage about the event.

Seek Help When Needed: Most children are resilient and bounce back to normal after a couples of days. If you are noticing significant changes in your child’s behavior after that point (isolation, withdrawal, excessive worry, fear of returning to school, sleeplessness, etc.) seek out guidance from a mental health professional.

 

Written by Lisa Borchert-Hrivnak M.A.Ed., LPCC, Owner of Avenues of Counseling and Mediation, LLC

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