Have you been wondering how to talk to your child about school shootings? It’s a difficult topic, and the age and maturity of your child can add to the complexity. For young children under 8 who are not directly involved in the shootings, the AAP recommends trying to shield them as much as possible, limiting what they hear and see on the media.
Initiate a conversation and listen
Before this, it’s important for you as a parent to process your own feelings before you have a conversation with your child. If you are dealing with your own feelings of fear, sorrow, or anger, this can overshadow your ability to listen to them effectively.
For older children or for the younger ones who have heard something, talk to them, but let them take the lead by listening. Ask them questions like, “What have you heard?” Give them the opportunity to ask you questions. Ask them how it makes them feel, and then validate their feelings. Encourage them to feel those emotions and try to get them to understand why they feel the way they do.
Emphasize safety then come up with a plan
Emphasize their safety and how schools in general are still quite safe, however, do not lie to them or make promises you will not be able to keep. Encourage them to report possible danger to a responsible adult. If they are older, ask them things they could do in the event something like that happens in their school. Come up with a safety plan for home and school, then discuss places to meet in cases of emergencies.
Being active instead of reactive during a tragedy helps in the aftermath for both adults and children to recover, so talk with them about concrete things they can do in the face of danger. They should identify exits to their classrooms and leave if a shooter is in their school and run as fast as they can away from the shooting. If there are no exits, then they are to lock the door or block it with a bookshelf or large desk. If they are in a location without an exit or an ability to close off access to the door, discuss things they can do to be active, like throwing things like desks, books, chairs, etc., at the shooter. The important thing is to not give up.
Spend more time together as a family
Try to spend some time daily or weekly where you check in with your kids. Foster communication and really listen to them. Try to turn off screens and spend time as a family, creating a strong community within your own home.
Your children may be curious about why someone would want to do something so horrible, and this is a good time to talk about the types of people who end up doing such atrocities. They tend to be loners who are angry and want to lash out at others. Have a discussion on ways we can all take action to prevent other mass shootings in our own world by being kind. Model this behavior to your children. Create a loving, inviting environment in your own home, and discuss how they can do this at school by befriending others who may be getting bullied or teased or perhaps even being ignored. If we develop small communities in our homes and schools through kindness and compassion, it’s one step in creating a world free of senseless killings.