Together, we are mourning the innocent lives murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As we mourn, and hold the community in our thoughts and prayers, let us also take action. As Mother Teresa said, “Prayer without action is no prayer at all.” These are preventable tragedies. It is possible to make our schools, houses of worship, grocery stores, and community spaces safe from gun violence. If you pray, then please pray. But also act.
Over the past 24 hours, parents everywhere have yet again been trying to figure out how to talk to their children about school shootings. You know your child best. There is no “one size fits all” script, phrase, or keyword. How you approach this conversation will depend on your child’s age, temperament, and developmental level. Even when the topic of conversation feels overwhelming to you, I promise – you are still the best person for your child right now.
Below I’ve outlined some of the most common questions and concerns parents have regarding speaking with their children following tragedies such as this.
Should I discuss this with my school aged children? Yes. As much as we want to shield our children from all the bad, scary things in the world, it simply isn’t possible. Children will learn of this somehow, perhaps by hearing something about it on the tv news or radio, or from their peers. It is always best for children to learn about such tragedies directly from their primary caregivers first.
What do I do first? First and foremost, you should make sure you are in a calm, collected emotional state. Our kids feed off our emotions, and if you enter this conversation in an intense emotional state, you may inadvertently make your child feel unsafe in having the conversation. Of course, we are not robots. It’s completely okay to express your feelings – in fact it’s healthy to do so! The key is to make sure your own emotional state is not overpowering the conversation.
How do I start the conversation? Sometimes kids will bring it up on their own, because they’ve already heard about it elsewhere. In that case, you may ask your child open ended questions such as “What have you heard?” or “What do you already know about what happened?” For those of you introducing this news to your children, you can start the conversation with “There was a very sad thing that happened today, and I want to talk to you about it.”
How do I explain what happened? You want to tailor the information to your child’s age, temperament, and developmental level. For younger ones, keep it factual, short, and concrete. Let them ask you questions, and try to answer their questions one at a time, without rambling. Always remember – “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. It’s very likely they will ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, and it’s better to be honest and forthcoming than it is to make up an answer. It may be helpful to ask your child that same question, so you can learn a bit more about how they’re processing the information. “That’s a great question, and I wish I knew the answer. What do you think the answer could be?”.
How do I help my child feel safe at school? Provide them with plenty of reassurance. Review the steps your school and your family take to practice safety. Also, you can try to balance out the information by highlighting the positives, such as by discussing the people that rushed in to help.