School shootings. Gun violence. Active shooters. These phrases spark an instant fear and anxiety in the hearts of parents worldwide. In fact, most of the parents would prefer to avoid thinking about them. But unfortunately, topics like gun violence and school shootings cannot be avoided.
Many of today’s youth have grown up in a country where mass shootings—like those that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine High School and Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School—are no longer unheard of.
It’s impossible to shelter our kids from learning about these tragic events, so what can be done instead is to be versed in ways to discuss it with them. Educating them on what to look for, how to stay safe and how one can report concerns can give them the tools to act if ever the unthinkable happens. Here's where to start:
1. Process Your Own Feelings First
Before you can have a conversation with your child about school shootings and gun violence, you need to focus on yourself first - process your own feelings about the issue at hand. Kids tend to pick up on your stress and anxiety, so you need to be sure you have worked through any issues you have with the subject matter at hand. This way, you can approach the conversation in a much more calm and reassuring manner.
2. Follow Your Child's Lead
Rather than preparing a monologue for your children or giving them a lecture on what to do if someone brings a gun to school, try interacting with them in a more organic manner. Ask open-ended questions so it doesn’t feel like an interrogation for them and allow them to direct the conversation. Apart from that, sometimes you can work as a team and even look for the answer together.
The impact of gun violence and school shootings can be extremely scary for children if it is not approached in the right manner. While having conversations with them about the possibility and potential of a school shooting is important, you also need to make sure you reassure them that they are in fact SAFE. Otherwise living in constant fear can cause anxiety and hysteria.
4. Normalising Having Hard Conversations
When your child seems to get overwhelmed by these emotional and heavy topics you should try validating and acknowledging their feelings. One of the things that parents often fear with anything that is “hard”, is thinking that bringing up the topic is going to cause problems. We need to model that it’s OK to talk about the elephant in the room. Let your children know that it’s OK to talk about “hard” things.
5. Keep the Dialogue Open
Too many times, parents think of conversations about school shootings as one-time conversations, but such conversations need to be ongoing. It's such conversations that you have consistently over the years, time after time that changes as your child gets older and has more questions.If these conversations are viewed as just one conversation, it’s not going to be super effective and your children aren't going to be prepared.
It's important to circle back to this topic. Ask your children what they are seeing at school or if there is anything that is out of the blue or bothering them or concerning them.
Your goal is to empower your children and provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills that will keep them safe. Avoid scaring them or talking about the gory details.
Finally, if your child seems to be struggling with or showing signs of fears and anxiety, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help. Sometimes having the extra support from a third person can be just what your child needs. It’s better to be safe, than sorry!