Help kids cope after school shootings
These tips can help kids and teens deal with their fears and emotions following a tragic event.
In the wake of yet another school shooting, many parents wonder how to explain the senseless violence to their kids and help manage their fears – all while trying to deal with their own concerns about their children's safety at school.
One of the best ways to help kids and teens cope with tragic events is to talk openly with them. Here are some tips that can help:
- Start a conversation. Although you may just want to wrap your kids in your arms (and you should!), it's equally important to talk with them about what happened. Begin the conversation by asking your children what they have already heard and use this as a starting point for talking about the event.
- Listen carefully. Be truthful without saying too much. Ask your kids specific questions about what they think happened or what worries them. Some will just need a basic explanation while others will want more details or need more reassurance that they're safe. Assure them you will answer any questions they have – kids need to know they can trust you.
- Listen for the emotions behind your child's words. There are many things happening in the world that we as parents cannot prevent. But we can help our children understand their feelings. Help your children identify the feelings they are experiencing. Sad. Scared. Confused. Normalize this. Tell your child that it is okay to feel this way.
- Consider your child's age. Teenagers will likely get a lot of their information from social media and what they hear from friends, so help them sort fact from fiction. Young children may ask the same questions over and over and might also think the shooting is happening again when they see it replayed on TV, so limit media exposure.
- Look for the positive. There are always people – teachers, police, students and community members – who do good things in bad situations. Focus on the helpers and the heroes to balance out the negative. Also convey information in a calm and positive manner because kids pick up on their parents' anxiety and comfort level.
- Reassure children about their safety. Children may be worried about going to school because the same thing could happen at their school. You may share the same concerns, but it's important to ease your children's fears and anxiety so they can resume their normal routines. Explain that teachers have plans in place to keep everyone at school as safe as possible.
- Watch for signs of distress. Most kids and teens are resilient and only temporarily feel the emotional impact caused by tragic events, but parents should watch for signs of stress, fear and anxiety. If you notice problems, reach out to a school guidance counselor, pediatrician or psychologist for help.
- Help your child develop effective coping strategies. When kids are scared or sad about something that they cannot control, they need practical and simple things to do to help them cope. Help your child make a list of things they can do when they are feeling sad or scared. The list can include things like snuggling with a parent, sharing their feelings, doing something they enjoy, playing with their favorite toys (not video games), listening to favorite music, or just being around family playing board games.