After the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999, no one imagined that over the next 20 years, 200 more school shootings would be perpetrated. In the first 79 days of 2018 alone, there were 12. Unfortunately, this is an epidemic in the United States and we have to figure out how to […]
After the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999, no one imagined that over the next 20 years, 200 more school shootings would be perpetrated. In the first 79 days of 2018 alone, there were 12. Unfortunately, this is an epidemic in the United States and we have to figure out how to parent our children though these tragedies.
Choosing the best way to talk to your kids about school shootings varies by age, maturity, and how impacted your family or community was by the event. It’s important to take note that both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend avoiding the topic with children under 8, if possible. Since kids under 8 have difficulty telling the difference between reality and fantasy, any exposure to violence can cause great fear and anxiety. This is good to keep in mind when choosing whether to expose young children to any violent content real or imaginary. Of course, if your child asks questions, it is important to reassure your child that they are safe and that the adults in their life are working hard to keep them that way.
Experts also recommend that children under 11 avoid watching the news entirely, since at this young age, children’s brains are more vulnerable to long-term impact of exposure to violent tragedies. Also, it is good to consider how much is exposure is helpful for any of us and to be very mindful of what children might overhear. Adults often feel that they need to keep aware of what is happening when there is a tragedy, but we may be over-exposing ourselves, and inadvertently our children, to a high degree of intense emotion by leaving the TV on.
For children over the age of 8, or if you believe your child might hear about the incident from others, first summarize the event as briefly as possible (think one or two sentences). Keep in mind that your child will use your words to tell the story to themselves in their head, so choose your words carefully. Children are very tuned in to emotions, so speak in a calm and matter-of-fact tone of voice and put this event in context with your family values. Your child might have a lot of questions, so try to not give too many details and stay focused on positives, such as the people who helped and the support of the community. Also, reassure your child of what is being done to keep them safe at home and school.
For pre-teens and teens, start by asking what they know. Ask how they feel, and listen carefully to what they say. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay too. Just let them know that you are available if they ever want to.
One way to help your child cope, is to let them do something to help. Discuss what you can do together to help the victims’ families, the school, or the community. Volunteering can help us cope with tragedy as we feel the positive effects of contributing and doing good for people in need.
If you or your child are struggling to cope emotionally because of an incident of mass violence, a licensed mental health professional can help. Please feel free to call me to discuss a free consultation and how therapy might help.