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How to talk to your children about school shootings

woman holds a young boy

Hearing about school shootings in the news frightens parents and children.

A few weeks ago, our five-year-old casually mentioned that he would have a lockdown drill at school the next day. I asked for details to make sure I understood what he was saying. Then, I felt numb. “If a bad guy with a gun walks past our classroom and hears us, he might come in,” he said. He explained that his teacher would have to turn off all the lights. The students would have to be very quiet and stay on the floor. This conversation made me think hard about how to talk to your children about school shootings.

School shootings are horrific and every decent human agrees on that.

It is terrible that five-year-olds have to practice lockdowns in case of a shooting. Today, another shooting happened at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland. We live in a world where these school shootings are becoming more and more frequent. Therefore, it is wise for parents to have serious talks with their children about the subject.

Did you notice that I said talks? Depending on the child’s age, the conversation will come up more than once. It can be even more puzzling for children who have previously experienced the trauma of war. Do your best to talk through your child’s concerns with him or her with age-appropriate information. For instance, a small child like ours should not see images or videos of shootings. Knowing that it happened is traumatic enough without giving them a lasting imprint of it.

For children who are a little older, the goal is to dig deeper into how they feel about school shootings.

Parents can keep this conversation general to focus more on what the children feel rather than what they saw or heard. The talk can be an opportunity to understand how the children understand what is going on. You might figure out through their feelings how you can best communicate with them about shootings.

Similarly, teenage children will want to explore the topic but not so much about feelings. When talking about school shootings, teenagers will likely want to a discussion about possible solutions. They will want to know what is already being done, how they can participate, and how their parents can help.

Parents can initiate this line of thinking as well. Ask your children what you can do with them to demand an end to this epidemic of atrocity. Work with them to find out what the local community is doing and join in. In most cases, they will not be afraid to stand with those with whom they agree.

The most important thing to do, no matter the age of the child, is to listen and be there in any way your child needs you.

Do not hesitate to reach out to the school counselor if you believe your child may require counseling or if you need with how to talk to your children about school shootings. Children react differently to school shootings. So, make sure to tailor your conversation to your child’s needs.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.