According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security there have been 138 recorded school shooting incidents in 2022 so far**. If you are raising school-aged children you’ve probably encountered parental and child anxiety surrounding the topic of school shootings. A challenge the current generation of parents are facing is that their children are most likely going to hear about devastating events like school shootings, one way or another. When scary things happen, children depend on the adults in their life for knowledge and comfort. This can be difficult for parents to navigate when attempting to protect children from topics that can potentially cause discomfort, anxiety,or even trauma.
Along with parents’ concerns for their child’s safety, they must consider their child’s anxiety. You might wonder how you should talk to your children about these occurrences or whether you should even bring it up. You may be concerned about what your child has heard, what kind of media they are consuming, what their perceptions on school shootings are, and if they are struggling with stress, anxiety, PTSD, etc. School shootings and gun violence may seem like an inappropriate topic to bring up to children, but chances are your child has already heard or seen things relating to the topic. Additionally, children may sense a parents avoidance of the subject and gather that it is something too horrible to talk about.
Addressing the issue directly with your child allows you the opportunity to assess what your child has been exposed to, their thoughts or perceptions, mistaken beliefs, and emotions towards the topic of school shootings. This will also allow you to consider what steps you need to take based on your child’s personal experience. Children are extremely resilient, but taking steps to ensure your child is processing this information in a productive and healthy manner can help protect from or mitigate symptoms of anxiety, trauma, & PTSD.
When having a discussion with your child about a school shooting or other tragic events, make sure your child feels they are in a comfortable and safe place. If they express they are uncomfortable talking about school shootings or refuse to engage, respect their wishes and let them know they can come to you if they have any questions or change their mind.
- Step one: Take the time to talk to your child in a safe and comfortable setting for them.
- Step two: Ask your child if they heard anything about the school shooting and allow them to explain to you what they have heard, their perceptions, beliefs, or misconceptions about school shootings. If there is anything that you may need to explain or correct, do so respectfully.
- Step three: Provide your child with the time to freely ask questions and take the time to answer them. Make sure to explain at a developmentally appropriate level and remember that avoiding answering a child’s questions can cause more anxiety for the child.
- Step four: Explain to your child that the world is mostly a safe place, but sometimes one person can make a bad decision and that is why schools take precautions to prevent school shootings everyday.
- Step five: Check in with your child to see if they have any more questions about what was explained and report any remaining concerns. Brainstorm with your child on possible things you could do to make them feel safer and to mitigate child anxiety.
It is just as important for parents to check in and take care of themselves too in order to be able to better help their children and model a healthy coping for their child. Parents can monitor their child for signs of anxiety, trauma, or PTSD. Parents should look out for signs of stress, anxiety or changes in typical behaviors. The American Psychological Association reports that behavioral and emotional changes in children and adults are normal in response to a traumatic event such as a school shooting. Children can experience a wide range of emotions such as fear, grief, anger etc. They may display behavioral changes such as difficulty sleeping, change in eating patterns, difficulty concentrating and more. These changes typically begin to fade from 4-6 weeks ***.
If parents find that their child is struggling behaviorally or emotionally they should take time to talk to them and allow them to freely express their thoughts and feelings. Identifying coping skills that would work best for them to utilize when they feel anxious, angry, sad etc. could be helpful for the child to have a plan. Effective coping skills can include things like going for walks, talking to a trusted adult, breathing exercises, or asking for a break.
If parents find that behavioral and emotional changes are significantly impacting the quality of the child/family’s life or have not subsided after 4-6 weeks it may be a good idea to seek out a therapist to help. Utilizing a mental health professional can help the child and the family better cope with significant symptoms of anxiety, trauma and PTSD.
** “View Chart.” Incidents by Year, https://www.chds.us/ssdb/view-chart/?chartid=8.
*** “Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/topics/gun-violence-crime/shooting-aftermath.