How to Talk to Your Child About School Shootings
January 20, 2017 - West Liberty, Ohio
April 10, 2017 - San Bernardino, California
May 4, 2017 - Irving, Texas
September 13, 2017 - Rochford, Washington
It seems like in recent years the number of shootings have gone up. Every few months students in another town face the terror and danger. Every few months another community asks the question: How did this happen?
Whenever and wherever a school shooting takes place, it is a tragedy for the families and communities involved. It shocks us and grieves us. And it scares us. Whether you are part of a community where a school shooting has taken place or you are simply a parent who is empathizing with other parents as they go through this experience, hearing about the violence will hit you hard. It is important for you to recognize that it will hit your child just as hard.
Whether your child attends a public school, private school, or is homeschooled, and whether he or she is young or a teenager, it is important to talk to students about school shootings. Just as you need to confront your fears and process what happened, your child needs to do the same. As a parent, you want to protect your child from everything that is evil and frightening, and it may be tempting to minimize conversations about difficult topics. Sadly, we live in a world where school shootings have become a part of our reality. Particularly if a school shooting has just happened, your child will need your support. This is a beautiful opportunity to show your love by being there for your child during a difficult time.
Starting a conversation with your child about such a frightening topic can be daunting. Here are some tips from psychcentral.com, a website specializing in mental health resources, and the American Psychological Association on how to talk to students about school shootings:
- Listen to your child. Listening to your child express his or her fears and thoughts is the first thing that you should do. Especially if your child heard about a school shooting outside of home or on the news, he or she will have many feelings to process, ranging from fear to anger. Give your child the gift of a safe place to process those emotions without worrying that others are judging him or her.
- Affirm your child’s safety. Children and adolescents have a need for safety. In fact, this is a basic human need. If you live in a place where there was recently a shooting, emphasize how the community is working together to make sure that people are safe. If your child is worried about what could happen in your community, discuss what steps he or she can take to be safe, and that even though there have been a lot of shootings, it does not happen “everywhere” or “all the time”.
- Be honest. Your child’s concerns are valid. Bad things happen. People get hurt. Don’t reassure your child with a lie. Instead focus on talking about how the people in your community are trying to keep everyone safe.
- Use familiar vocabulary, especially with young children. News stories about school shootings will often use specialized vocabulary like “gunman”. If these words are unfamiliar to your child, these words can actually increase his or her fear. Instead, use known words to talk to students about school shootings.
- Limit media. For most young children, watching or hearing a news report about a school shooting will be too difficult to handle. Be aware of your child’s environment and limit his or her exposure to such things. Older children and teenagers may already have seen a news report at school, at a friend’s house, or online. Still, it is a good idea to limit his or her “intake” of violent and disturbing images. Focusing on frightening details will be scary for a child of any age.
- Be aware and look for symptoms of anxiety. As the American Psychological Association says, children are resilient, and in most cases a child will be able to reenter his or her routine and continue on as before. However, in some cases a child may develop anxiety. Here are some symptoms to look out for: physical aches and pains, worrying, trouble concentrating, disengaging from others, being irritable, increased arguing, trouble sleeping or eating, nightmares, remaining unusually close to parents or authority figures, or refusing to go to school. If you are concerned, talk to your school counselor, family doctor, or local mental health professional directly.
- Go over safety plans with your child. If your child attends a public or private school, review the school’s safety procedure. This is also a chance to talk to your child about the importance of listening to adults in crisis situations. Even if your family homeschools, this is a good opportunity to discuss your family’s safety plan when you are in public places. Discussing safe behaviors is an important step when you talk to students about school shootings.
The Bible tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Fear is a natural reaction, but going through life in constant fear is not healthy. Overcoming fear and processing the emotions that are the result of a traumatic event is a necessary step for both parents and children. Choosing to talk to students about school shootings is difficult, but ultimately it will help your child as he or she processes a terrifying event and continues to live a healthy life. Your child needs to talk about these events. By creating a place for him or her to do so, you are showing your love as a parent.
Working through tough issues with your child can sometimes feel very isolating. In these circumstances it is important to remember that you are not alone. In the wake of tragedy, communities can come together in ways that are truly beautiful, to mourn together and help each other. If you or your child need support during this difficult time, reach out to others in your community, whether that is a mental health professional, your church family, or the staff and families at your school.
Enlightium Academy would like to recognize the courage of and express our grief for the families of the victims of school shootings.