School shootings are all over the media in the U.S. It's a hard topic and one we debate whether we should discuss with our children and teens. The unfortunate truth is that it is a widespread problem and children are aware. These events may leave you wondering how to talk about this with your children. You might want to discuss it on your terms rather than let them learn about it through the media or social groups. But where to start?
Start talking to your kids
Despite how hard this topic is, it is necessary to have open discussions with your kids and teens. As parents, you want your children to have accurate information. If you let them hear stories from their friends and peers, you can’t control what they will hear or believe.
Oftentimes, you can’t control what they learn in social settings. But you can provide the best details and be a reliable source they trust. Share the information in a way they understand and on a level they can handle. You can speak to your kid in the best way they can grasp.
Tragic events and trauma are challenging situations for children and teens to handle. You have an opportunity to make these situations a bit easier for your children. Providing supportive conversations nurtured by caring relationships.
These tips can make these conversations a little easier for you and your children.
Tips for talking to your kids
Children of all ages can sense when something is wrong. They know when their parents are stressed, angry, or upset. When you feel the weight of tragedy or fear and anxiety of events like school shootings, your kids can feel it, too. This is why talking to your kids is powerful, regardless of their age.
Infants and Toddlers
Young children are very susceptible to the feelings and emotions of their parents. Infants and toddlers often sense these emotions or anxieties but do not have a way to express them. They may act abnormal, be more emotional, or be clingy to parents who are feeling distressed. Watch for signs of unusual behavior in your little one when you feel stressed. Take note of how you express it when you’re around them.
Little ears hear more than we realize. As parents, we know this to be true, but there are times we don’t think about it. They are listening to conversations we have on the phone, with other adults, and even on the news and radio. Sometimes, we think they aren’t paying attention to the “boring” adult things, but they hear more than we realize.
This may show up as new fears or old fears that return for no obvious reason. You might also find that they start asking questions about the event when you didn’t realize they had heard.
You don’t want to find yourself scrambling to answer their questions. It is important not to lie or put off their questions. Be honest and answer them with what you feel is reasonable for their age.
Kids of this age communicate through play. This can help them express feelings and questions. It may also be a way that allows you to help explain things to them in a way they can understand. Provide reassurance and hugs as children navigate these feelings and emotions.
Children in elementary school may have more questions to ask. They hear more from their friends and social circles. Let your child ask questions. Let them process the information they have seen or heard, and be open and honest with them.
If your child does not ask or talk about the event, you should. Most children will ask because they are inquisitive by nature. Support them and let them know everyone around them is doing their best to keep them safe.
Provide them the most factual information you can without being over-detailed. Most importantly, do not give them false information or assurance. Don’t downplay their thoughts or concerns by telling them not to worry or that they are always safe. While this is our wish for all children, you want to avoid breaking promises.
With older children, you can begin the conversation by asking what they already know. Allow them to express their concerns and emotions. Listen to what they have to say.
Let them know you support them and provide them with facts from the event. Reassure them and let them know that if they feel scared, anxious, or upset, it is normal and valid. Help them find ways to cope with those feelings.
Teens will react differently than younger children. They will likely have heard the news more quickly. They have more access to information through social media, news, and social groups. Their emotions may include fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration for the victims. These situations feel relatable because they often occur in similar age groups.
Listen to what they have to say. Let them know that their feelings are valid and be open and honest with them. Help them find constructive ways to cope with their feelings too. Their frustration can be overwhelming at times and they may need an outlet to help them deal with it.
Don’t be afraid to listen
If you noticed a similar theme throughout the age groups, it is listening. Children and teens need to feel heard. They need to know their thoughts and feelings are understood and valued. They also need to feel that someone is supporting them and doing whatever possible to keep them safe.
Understand your own feelings when preparing to have these discussions with your kids. If you are too emotional, that will affect how your child receives the information. Attempting to hide the tragedy from your child is not an effective strategy.
Decide how you want to handle these discussions in advance. In a world of unforeseen tragedies occurring, it helps to prepare for these conversations. Finally, if your child doesn’t ask about it first, have a conversation about what happened. While letting them begin can be helpful, waiting too long can open the door for the wrong information.
School shootings are all over the media in the U.S.
The unfortunate truth is that it is a widespread problem and children are aware.
Children and teens need to feel that someone is supporting them and doing whatever possible to keep them safe.
In a world of unforeseen tragedies occurring, it helps to prepare for these conversations.
Listen to what your children have to say.
NYU Langone Health. Talking to children about mass shootings.
Yale Medicine. How To Talk To Kids About School Shootings.
Children’s National Hospital. Talking to kids about school shoots.
Stanford Medical Children’s Health. How to Talk to Children About School Shootings.