Texas School Shooting: How to Help Kids Navigate Fear Amid Gun Violence in Schools
How can you support your child through traumatic events like a school shooting?
As the nation responds to the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, families are left grappling with how to explain to their children why these horrific acts of violence take place in a setting that is meant to be a safe haven.
These senseless tragedies can be difficult even for adults to process, so it’s important to acknowledge and address our own emotions so that we can then provide support to the children, families and caregivers who may also be suffering in the wake of a trauma.
Although there is no one way to address tragedies with kids, The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend avoiding the topic with children until about 8 years old, depending on the child’s temperament.
However, when younger children are at risk of learning about events like mass shootings at school, it’s preferable for parents to approach the topic at home in a controlled situation.
Here are our tips for parents and caregivers about discussing school shootings with children.
Consider your child’s age when approaching conversations
If you have young children or elementary school aged children, keep your explanation simple and tell a “one-sentence story” such as, “a very bad thing happened at a school in Texas, and lots of people feel sad about it.”
Older elementary children will ask more questions, so you can speak more directly about the incident and remind them about all of the efforts that teachers and administrators have in place to keep them safe at school.
For older children/teenagers who are more aware about the specific details, be prepared to have candid discussions about gun violence, community efforts to increase safety and ways to look for solutions.
Limit your child’s exposure to news & media (including social media)
In our digital age, TV news, smartphones and tablets are all very accessible to children of all ages, and it’s easy to stumble upon disturbing images online that bring distant trauma closer to home.
Instead of relying on the news to explain current events to your child, turn off the TV when the news broadcast begins and use it as an opportunity to have an open and honest conversation about the events.
If they do see pictures or hear clips, reinforce some of the positive responses to the trauma – like community leaders stepping in to help or the local first responder heroes who helped lead others to safety.
Remember: even as adults, a short social media break to redirect your energy away from consuming startling or troubling media and toward connecting with loved ones or acts of self-care. If you must be on social media for work, take frequent breaks for in-person conversations, to take brisk walks and get fresh air, or by engaging in an activity you enjoy.
Reinforce to your children that school is usually a safe place
Once you’ve validated your child’s concerns and empathized with their feelings, you can reassure them that school is generally a very safe place to be.
If your child expresses fear over going to school, remind them that the adults at their school will do everything they can to keep them safe, and that schools have safety drills to prepare for all kinds of crises.
Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
As hard as it may be during a stressful situation, remember that before you can properly take care of others, you need to take care of yourself and that starts with communication.
Have the hard conversations and talk to friends and family, about the events and if someone you know is struggling, ask them how you can support them.
Don’t expect yourself to accomplish the same routine or activities right away–it’s okay to take time to collectively grieve at your own pace.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take care of yourself and be sure to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly.
When it comes to national tragedies, remember this is not a singular conversation–check back in with your kids regularly, and provide the space to talk about it and for your children to ask questions.
Although it deeply saddens us to have to address this topic, we know that many parents, caregivers and individuals around the country are grappling with the recurring school shootings in our communities and seek to provide resources for you.
If you think you need some additional support, please reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our therapists or contact the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.