The Reality of School Shootings:

Therapy Tips on Addressing this Topic with your Child

The number of school shootings in America this year alone is at a staggering high. With every news headline announcing yet another school shooting, the pit in our stomach grows as anxiety only raises in parents – rightfully so. And the terrifying question is inevitable: what if my kid’s school is next?

While we hope this never becomes a reality, there is a responsibility to prepare our children on how to respond and protect themselves. And although you want your child to hold onto their childlike innocence, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of what we’re seeing.

In this case, protecting our children involves including them in conversations they may not be ready for. So where do you even begin? Here are some tips for talking to your child about this topic:

 

Listen

Start by asking your child what they know or have heard about the shooting when one does occur. Listen to their concerns and answer any questions they may have. Check in on how the news makes them feel, providing them a safe space to process the emotions that come up within.

 

Be Honest and Age Appropriate

While it’s important to be honest, it’s also important to protect your child’s innocence to the best of your ability. Avoid graphic language or projecting negative emotions onto your child. Be sure to use language that your child can understand, and provide honest answers to their questions. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” when you don’t have all the answers.

 

Empower Them

Help your child feel empowered by discussing ways they can help make their school and community safer. Put a plan in place in case they experience a school shooting so they know how to protect themselves. Encourage them to speak up if they see or hear anything that concerns them.

 

Empower Them

While we want to address the possibility, it’s important to acknowledge the risk but not live in fear. Remind your child that they are safe, and that there are people working to keep them safe. Let them know that schools have safety procedures in place to protect students.

 

Focus on the Helpers

Help your child focus on the positive actions being taken in response to the event, such as first responders, teachers, and other helpers. With the news of every shooting, acknowledging the helpers can provide some hope in the midst of fear.

 

Limit Exposure

Limit your child’s exposure to news coverage of the shooting, especially if it is particularly graphic or violent. Just because we have access to everything, doesn’t mean we need to know everything. Seeing the same images over and over can be overwhelming and traumatizing for children.

 

Remember that every child is different, and some may need more or less information and support than others. If your child continues to feel anxious or scared, or if they have trouble sleeping or are having nightmares, consider seeking the advice of a mental health professional. And when you don’t have the words to say, remember that the most valuable thing you can provide your child is love. 

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