Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Talking with Children about School Shootings

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"Mom, why are all the flags half mast today?" This question from my nine year old son two days after our nation's most recent school shooting in Parkland, FL. I told him simply and without much detail that there had been another school shooting and that 17 people had been killed. "Another one?" he asked. "Yes, baby. Another one. What do you make of that?" And then our conversation ensued. Parents today face something previous generations did not. We have to talk with our children about mass shootings in schools. It's a hard topic to address with them. Schoolchildren today accept routine lockdown drills as readily as previous generations accepted fire drills. So, how do parents talk about school shootings with children? Find some tips below.

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Tackling tough topics with our children is hard. Talking about school shootings with our children is harder.  Here are some tips that can make the school shooter conversation easier (if that's possible).

Stay calm.
I know it's scary... We send our children to school each day in the hopes that they will be safe for eight hours. We fear all of the "what if's" while they are away from us... and sometimes even when they are WITH us. But for conversations such as this, it is important that we address our feelings beforehand. While conversing with your child, be calm and assured.

Talk on your child's level. Avoid graphic news coverage with younger children.
As parents, we have to ascertain just how much information our children are capable of taking in. Conversations will vary if we are talking to a six year old or a sixteen year old. Younger children needn't hear the grisly details of the latest school shooting. But older and more mature kids can take part in conversations with  more direct guidance on how to respond to a school shooting.

Let child know it's okay to be sad or scared.
Sometimes all we need is to have our feelings validated by others. Let your child know that it's okay to be scared or sad about recent events. Talk about their feelings. Let them know that it's okay to be sad or scared, but that there are procedures in place to keep them safe at school (see next point).

Reassure them that they are safe at school.
Talk with your children about the safety measures their school takes to keep them safe. Remind them that they are in the presence of people that care for them while they are at school. As a parent, each day we send our children into those school doors, we are entrusting teachers, paras, and administration to keep them safe... to love them as we do... to recognize their beauty and strengths. Our children need to know how much confidence we have in their daily caretakers.
If you see something, say something.
Children need to know that there is a safe space to vocalize concerns. If a classmate makes a comment or threat of violence, children need to know their observations are taken seriously. Talk with your children frequently. Remind them that if they see something or hear something that sounds scary or dangerous they must come to your or a school official about it.

Look for the helpers.
As Mr. Rogers said, "Look for the helpers." Encourage children to see all the people in tragic situations that are running in to help. Talk with them and read books about police, firefighters, EMTs, and military members whose job it is to keep us safe.

Ask child how they think they can help.
Healing is subjective. There's no clear cut route towards healing after tragedy. Even on the sidelines, children can still be affected by school shootings in other parts of the country. Talk with them about what THEY think they can do to feel better or to exact change. They can start a journal about their feelings. Or maybe they want to make cards for survivors. Older children may wish to write their Senators. Whatever they want to do, if it's feasible, accommodate them to help them deal with their thoughts and emotions.

Open up ability to ask questions at any time.
Make it clear to your children that they can talk about their feelings or concerns at anytime. Keeping an open door for communication is so important. Keep in mind that some children may not always be forthcoming with their concerns. It may be necessary for you to "check in" with them occasionally and ask questions about what is going on from their perspectives on the world.

Kid-friendly books that address scary topics.
I've not found many books on talking about school shootings with children, but I'll assure you that I'm currently working on one. In lieu of that, here are some books about loss and tragedy that may help children.

You can find these books on Amazon at the links below:

Give lots of hugs.
One of the best ways we can connect with our children is through physical touch and affection. During these times of insecurity and fear, sometimes a hug or a cuddle are what can make the biggest impact in making our kiddos feel safe and secure.

These are tough and scary times for both parents and children. We do the best we can with the tools we have. So take these tips, love on your babies, and do all that you can to ensure that a solution is found to the rampant gun violence our country's schools are facing. God bless you all.

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