Mental Health Mondays: Talking to Kids about School Violence
By Teandra Gordon, Ph.D., Therapist and Legacy School-Based Clinics Therapy Director
The recent school shooting has left many in the country angry, sad and confused. It is an experience that hits home for so many of us. We send our children to school hoping that they will be safe and then tragedy interrupts the most routine day.
Adults have had a difficult time with the news, but what about our kids? As adults, it is our responsibility to process tragic experiences with our children who may be feeling fear and confusion. Our tendency may be to avoid difficult topics, but open dialogue is a necessity. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and Legacy therapists make the following recommendations:
1. Start by asking what your child/teen already has heard about the events from the media and from friends. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears or concerns.
2. Consider sharing your feelings about the events with your child/teen at a level they can understand. Expressing sadness and empathy for the victims and their families is a model for teaching your children to have compassion for others.
3. Children and teens may ask if it is possible that an event like this could happen at their school. It can be difficult to address this question, but noting that while it is possible, it is unlikely is an honest but reassuring answer.
4. Don’t have these discussions close to bedtime, as this can increase distress and interfere with sleep.
5. Limit your child’s exposure to media images and sounds of the shooting, and do not allow your very young children to see or hear TV/radio shooting-related messages.
6. If your children are showing stress or concern, it can be helpful to show affection and keep a close eye on them until they’re feeling more safe and secure.