It is incomprehensible to me that there was yet another school shooting last week. My heart goes out to all of the students, teachers and families connected to the Arapahoe school shooting.
The fact that this latest tragedy was so close to Columbine (just 8 miles away in Littleton, CO) and also on the eve of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT, makes this all the more painful.
These days, it is hard enough for teens and tweens to grow up up with the increased pressures at school to meet “Common Core Standards,” to keep up with but not become addicted to or the victim of social media, and to handle fears about terrorism and super storms.
Now it seems, we can no longer confidently reassure our children that school shootings are an isolated, very rare occurrence.
So, what do you tell your children when frightening and violent events such as school shootings occur?
It is important to consider the age and maturity of your child when trying to figure out how to communicate about school shootings or other acts of violence.
Here are some tips to help you talk about things like this with your kids:
Acknowledge the event
- If your child is in preschool or kindergarten, let them know in very simple terms what happened. For example, you might say that somebody came to school with a gun and some people got hurt. Skip the details. If the story has made the news or is being talked about in your town, it is likely that your little one will hear something about what has happened.
- For older kids you may be as direct and honest as you can be knowing that such an upsetting event is likely to trigger some very strong feelings including anger, sadness, disbelief, and confusion.
Dealing with “Why”
- In many instances we do not have a satisfactory answer. explaining that sometimes people feel very angry and don’t know how to handle their thoughts and feelings in a constructive way, leading them want to hurt or kill other people.
Turn off the news:
- Repeated exposures to visual images of tragedies can increase the chances that children will have trouble coping.
Let them talk:
- Encourage them to share what they know and any fears they may have. Address them calmly and directly as is appropriate for the age of your child. Sometimes kids have fears that are very different then what adults might expect. Some kids, especially teenagers, may not want to share their feelings directly with you. In those instances, you can ask what other kids are talking about or what they have heard. Sometimes this is a way to open the lines of communication.
- It’s okay to share your feelings: While we don’t want to fall apart in front of our kids it’s okay to let them know, especially for older kids, that we are angry and sad and even frightened. But then move on to the ways the children are safe and the safety measures that are in place.
- When your child raises concern that somebody could shoot them, reassure them that it’s very unlikely that something like this would happen to them and that the grown-ups are doing x, y and z to keep them safe.
If you find that your child is struggling, showing changes in eating, sleeping, mood, or behavior please talk to him or her and seek professional help if things don’t improve relatively quickly. If you have questions or would like to discuss a confidential issue, please feel free to get in touch with us at www.ricepsychology.com.