Talking to Kids About School Shootings

Posted on February 2, 2018

Yesterday we turned on the news to learn of another school shooting, this time very close to my home, family, and friends. With so many recent school shootings—more than a dozen so far in 2018—it is clear this is happening all too often, and frightening to think that our children may feel that this is becoming the norm.

Your children may have questions that are hard to respond to: Why would someone do something like this? Will this happen at my school or to me? Are we safe at school? While there are no easy answers to these questions, being aware and addressing your children’s fears and concerns is imperative to their physical and mental health. By focusing your attention on what has happened and discussing it honestly and openly, you can help ease their fears and anxieties about their own safety.

These tips can help guide you through discussing this tragedy with your kids, and help you to handle it as well.

Begin a Mindful, Open Discussion: Let kids know that, unfortunately, bad incidents do happen. Find out what your child knows about the event; his or her perception of what has happened may be very different from reality. This article at Today.com gives an age-by-age guide on how to talk to your children about these tragedies. 

Don’t hesitate to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. If your child asks a question and you don’t know the answer, the simplest reply might be something like, “I’m sad about the news, and I’m worried just like you are. I love you, and I’m here for you.”

Encourage Your Family to Express Their Feelings: You can complete a Dealing with the Feeling (Spot it, say it, okay it) exercise to open up dialogue. Younger children may not be able to express their feelings about “violence,” but they can discuss how they feel when a classmate is mean to them, and you can get at that with open-ended questions. Share how you feel about school shootings so that your children know that what they are feeling is normal. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions (crying, sadness, shock) as well.

Discuss Mindfulness With Your Children: Mindless events like school shootings are caused when we do not understand what our inner world looks like. They come from a complete disconnection from oneself and our innate human values of goodness and oneness. Make sure to help your kids develop problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills and to avoid (and report) bullying and other negative communication with peers.

Make Sure Your Kids Feel Safe and Secure: Our children are looking to us for safety. Avoid information overload by limiting their exposure to the disturbing content that they may see on TV or the internet. Also be mindful of conversations that you may be having with other adults when the kids are in earshot.

Make your kids aware of the fact that school shootings are not common, and stress that schools are safe places. You may even want to discuss school safety procedures to make sure that your child understands what to do in certain situations.

Raise the Level of Self-Awareness and Connection: There are many ways for both adults and children to relieve stress and anxiety. Stick with your normal routine, and do not become fixated on news and updates about the tragedy, which can cause you stress that your children will notice. Teach your children meditation or breathing exercises that they can use if they are feeling overwhelmed.

Be mindful of their body language and cues. Every child will respond to trauma differently. If you feel that something is bothering them, always ask. After a few days, signs of anxiety (excessive worrying, refusing to go to school, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches, or stomachaches) might suggest that a child needs more assistance in dealing with their feelings.

Reach Out and Offer Your Help: When something so massively damaging happens, human compassion increases tenfold. Teach your children that healing is best expressed through acts of connection, kindness, and compassion. Let your child know that when bad things happen, the world is full of good people who want to help. You can ask your kids for ideas on how they may be able to help the survivors. From fundraising and collecting donations to sending a handwritten note to show support and love, there are many ways that your child can show compassion.

Learn more from Roma about talking to kids about violence at Tools of Growth and 30Seconds.com.