Whenever possible, a child’s first teacher is his or her parent. With heavy topics like school shootings and gun violence, it’s better that children get the facts from their parents or guardians so that any information received through friends or social media can be measured against the talks with you – a trusted, informed adult.
When your children receive the right information from you, they hopefully will have a better chance at responding in a way that can keep high levels of stress and fear at bay.
Check your own tone and feelings
The hard part is knowing what to say. But one thing is for sure: your tone, nervousness and compassion will speak volumes in how your child processes the information. The intent is not to lessen a tragedy, but rather to inform in a way that your child or children are not fearful about leaving the house.
It’s a good idea to:
- Have had enough time to process the information yourself, and think about some key points you want to convey to your child. You should be honest about how you may personally be affected by the tragedy, but also be hopeful for solutions and change. This might get children to open up about their own feelings.
- Keep in mind there are reports of school shootings in the past few years all over the internet. However, it’s important you tell children that some of the wider-publicized, tragic events are not the norm.
- Remind your children that the media can use numbers in a way to make news sound even more extreme, urgent and alarming than it really is.
Convey the facts
Give truthful information about what has happened after you’ve found out what it is that your children already know (or think they know). Keep your talk age-appropriate. You wouldn’t talk to a 15-year old the same way you talk to an 8-year old.
Let them talk
Ask what worries them the most. Encourage children to share their thoughts about what has occurred, and then, most importantly, listen to what they say.
Empower your children
The idea of somebody entering what is supposed to be a safe place – your child’s school – can make a child feel helpless. Find out from your child’s teacher (or administrator) about the safety plan in place for the school. Once you are familiar with it, talk to your child about the safety plan. Are they clear about the plan? Do they have any questions? Ask them what they would do to carry out the safety plan.
Direct children away from social media
Monitor your kids’ use of social media during times of crisis and tragedy. Disturbing photos and accounts of events can spread quickly online, and can be upsetting. Be mindful of images, news and texts they are exposed to.
Refrain from waiting
You don’t need to wait for another crisis to happen. Talk to your children now, and continue to talk to them about security procedures. Remember to remind children that school shootings are not the norm.
If your child is showing signs of anxiety or trouble processing the tragedies of other schools, reach out to a board-certified mental health provider for help.
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