10 TIPS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS ABOUT SCHOOL SHOOTINGS
By: Emily C. Gosterisli, PhD, LCSW and Jessi Heneghan, LCSW, RPT-S
- Be mindful of your own emotional state and practice self-compassion/self-care before talking with your children about this emotional issue. Get support from your loved ones and provide yourself with the care you need (e.g., alone time, meditation/prayer, exercise, a funny movie or book, a walk in the woods). It is only human for you to be emotionally impacted by violence in schools. Caring for yourself will help you be the support and guide your children need in this time of stress.
- Speak with your children from a place of calm and reassurance.
- Let your child lead. Be sensitive to and validate your child’s emotions. Let their thoughts and questions guide you.
- Keep it age appropriate. While children under 5 should generally be protected from these concerns, school age children who have exposure to discussion/media/social protest on this issue may benefit from thoughtful and supportive conversations with their parents. Kids need to get information from reliable, supportive sources such as parents. If you aren’t sure what to say, less is more. You can always add more information as needed.
- Speak in kid-friendly language. Kids ages 5-10 exposed in some way to this topic may benefit from a brief explanation that some people have not been following the “safety rules” (or laws) about “weapons” (or guns) and so our communities are coming together to make our rules and safety plans even stronger. Kids 11+ may be able to understand more adult language but still need a calm, strength-based message.
- Help your child identify safe and supportive people to talk with when they are scared (if not you, a teacher, grandparent, neighbor, etc.).
- Consider reminding your children of the safety features supporting them at school (locked doors, watchful adults, etc.). You may talk through other safety features, plans, and lockdown drills in the same way you might talk through a fire safety plan.
- Parents of older children – ask specifically what your child is seeing on social media about school shootings so you can offer support, fact-checking, and encouragement to unplug if needed.
- Try to avoid minimizing your child’s fears, even if in an effort to reassure. Aim to be lovingly present with them and their emotions. We cannot take away all of the scary things in life, but we can help calm and support our children in times of stress.
- In the face of big emotions from your child, help them identify coping strategies that work for them. Some ideas: 5 deep slow breaths, a cup of herbal tea, snuggles and a book.
Go to https://www.wabe.org/episode/closer-look-deadly-school-shooting-parkland-fl-georgia-equality-state-legislation/ (minutes 11-19) and listen to Rose Scott of a Closer Look interview Jessi Heneghan, LCSW, RPT-S for more information on this topic.