Repeated mass shootings at schools have become a mounting source of stress and anxiety for school children and their parents. Parents seeking strategies for discussing this topic with their children should keep in mind the following advice:
• Take care of yourself. Make sure you have your own support system in place and take advantage of it. You’ll be much more effective talking with your children if you’ve first dealt with your own fear and anxiety.
• Get ahead of the conversation. Bring up the topic and be as honest as possible about the tragic event before your kids find out about it on their own.
• Limit media exposure. This is especially important for younger children who may become very anxious after observing graphic images and video on TV.
• Encourage them to speak. Urge your child to ask you their questions and address them as honestly as possible.
• Reassure them. Let them know that it’s normal to feel fear, worry, anxiety and other uncomfortable emotions, and that sharing those concerns with can lead to relief. If your child is afraid to go to school, remind him or her that teachers, principals, and other school staff are trained to deal with these situations and keep them safe.
• Encourage other conversations. Let them know that it can help to talk with friends and teachers who are going through the same thing. If your teen doesn’t want to open up about their feelings to you, ask him or her how their best friend or friends are taking it.
• Discuss and practice safety plans. Review safety and emergence measures like locking doors, calling 911, hiding, and listening carefully to teachers.
• Keep checking. The feelings don’t go away overnight so check back in with your child periodically about how they feel — don’t brush the subject under the rug or act like it didn’t happen.
• Encourage them to be proactive. Having a sense of purpose can help to relieve feelings of helplessness. For instance, suggest they light candles for the victims, write cards to their families, or write their congressman about stronger gun control.
• Enlist a pro. If your child seems overwhelmed by the events or refuses to return to school, consulting with a counselor or other mental health professional can help him or her get through the crisis.
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