Mass shootings and gun violence have become all too common in our society and unfortunately some of that activity has breached the walls of our schools. There are countless studies and statistics which further explain the severity of this issue; but one of the more alarming ones for parents would be that in the last 9 years, one in five people killed in a mass shooting incident is under 18 years old.
As kids of all ages return to school this year it is not going unnoticed that this has become a common epidemic and many parents are concerned for the safety of their children. Beyond that, the media coverage of these events has been so extensive that children may also be aware of the potential threat to their safety in school. So how can you help to prepare yourself and your children for the coming school year? We have some suggestions on how to best form a conversation around this sensitive topic.
First of all, as parents it is important that you address your own fears and concerns apart from your children. It is understandable that you may be concerned about the frequency and severity of these incidents. Many parents experience heightened anxiety and stress that may cause them to react openly to these events. However, managing those emotions behind closed doors with a spouse, family or peers is a more productive way to address those feelings without further alarming children.
When having these discussions with your children, allow them to express any feelings that they may have and be sure to recognize and appreciate those thoughts. Some children do not easily express themselves and may have trouble opening up, so be sure to make time for them and create open environments for conversation.
It is also important to reinforce that school is a safe place for them so that they can feel confident in their daily attendance. Be sure to reiterate any safety drills or procedures that your child needs to keep in practice. It also helps to develop emergency plans or contacts for your child to use in case something ever does occur so that they are better prepared.
When it comes to your approach of this topic, we would like to break it down by age group. The K-12 range is vast and the way that children ingest and process trauma changes as their cognitive and social attributes develop.
Here are our suggestions on how to manage this conversation with each age group:
Younger children need these messages to be delivered in short and simple ways. It is better to keep things brief and skew the conversation to positive things. Remind them that adults are there to protect them and they have drills to practice which will keep them safe. Also, try to discourage or avoid allowing children to see photos or video of incidents that do occur. Studies show that imagery can be more traumatizing than the actual information for children.
At this stage of youth, children become more open about asking questions. They will likely want answers from their parents in order to feel more comfortable. This is also a time in their development where emotions are a little more fragile so they may have trouble separating fantasy from reality. Be sure that your child feels part of a community that is safe and secure and do your best to answer their questions in a reassuring way. Again, it is always best to end these discussions reminding your child of the positive points which solidify their safety and stability in school.
At this age children are beginning to generate their own opinions about what is going on in their lives. They may present different ideas as to why they think certain things are happening and it is good to have an open discussion about those thoughts. The significant thing about this age group is that they can now be encouraged and empowered to be part of the solution and promotion of safety in schools. Encourage them to pay close attention to their surroundings and contribute to the overall improvement of the safety in their environment.
Beyond these discussions it is important to be mindful of your child’s emotional state at all times. Changes in appetite, behavior or personality traits can be signs of heightened anxiety that may need addressed at a professional level. At the end of the day these instances are intimidating to many children and it can be difficult for them to manage the associated emotions and stress. Specifically, if any of these events hit close to home and your child experiences a significant loss it is important to make sure they have the professional resources to manage and mend those traumas.
Mass shootings in schools bring about concerns that are difficult to face, but it is important to address these things openly and form a team with your child. We encourage you to have an open conversation with them and do your best to maintain a positive outlook while developing your own safety plan as a family.
Should you need any further guidance, or if your child has suffered a more severe trauma as a result of these unfortunate issues, please give us a call today! We would be happy to help in the healing process.