In the Wake of Another School Shooting

How to Talk to Children About School Shootings

So here we are again, mourning the loss of 21 innocent lives. There are 21 families grieving the loss of loved ones and a school community is now facing the ramifications of a mass shooting. It feels heavy and hopeless as we continue experiencing mass shootings almost daily. As one community mourns another is bracing for an attack. 

If you are feeling like you don’t know where to start, or can’t figure out how to talk about this horrible tragedy with your child, you are absolutely not alone. It feels unnatural and almost cruel to have to steal some of your child’s sense of safety. Then the question becomes, how can we start this conversation with our children without causing undue fear and worry?

  • It has been said before and we will say it again, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first. The news of yet another school shooting is tragic and horrifying. Take some time to reflect and regulate your own emotions before talking with your child. Children can feel when our emotions are heightened and if you as the caregiver are distressed while talking you may not be sending the message you would with a clear mind. 

  • Come up with a plan. Think about your child’s age and decide how much you want to reveal. For children under 6 it is especially important to keep the message short and concise. You may want to focus on a bad person hurting people or you may want to talk about people not being bad, but their circumstances caused them to do bad things and in that process people were hurt. No matter what, trying to keep it to a sentence is helpful for understanding. 

  • Tragic events elicit some very big emotions from adults and kids alike. If you find yourself angry, sad, or unsure, name those feelings and talk to your child about what these different emotions are communicating to us. Mad lets us know that something doesn't feel fair. Sad lets us know that we care. All feelings are welcome and have a purpose and naming your feelings can allow your child to feel safe expressing their own emotions.

  • Open up space for questions by asking what questions do you have for me? Asking this can help kids feel welcomed to ask questions about who, what, and why. It can be helpful if beforehand you try to think of possible questions they could ask and to come up with some responses that align with the message you want them to take away. 

  • If your child is school age they are most likely already practicing active shooter or lockdown drills at school. Ask them about the plan that they have at school and ask about how they feel during these drills. Kids can experience a range of emotions and authentically communicating can help kids feel empowered to also share their true feelings. 

  • Lastly, Identify the helpers. There will always be people who do horrible things, this has always been true. Pointing out the helpers can help your child know who the trusted and safe adults are. Have them point out the helpers in their school community and the trusted adults that make them feel safe and secure. Ending with a positive and a sense of connection can help ease some of the anxiety and fears that are created after school shootings. 
Nothing could prepare any of us for caring for children in such intense and unpredictable times. While all these tips are great for kids, remember that you may need time to process this as well. Figure out what you can do that helps to ease that feeling of helplessness. Are you writing a blog or social media post? Are you reaching out to your elected officials? Or are you figuring out new ways to help engage with your community? There is no right or wrong way and we hope that you can find what works best for you and your family. If you have any helpful ideas for action please share them in the comments below.