In light of the horrible incident at Marysville Pilchuck High School 6 months ago and today’s shooting at North Thurston High School in Lacey, it is important for parents for consider how to talk to their children about such incidents. It is never easy to think of the danger our children may face at school. And it is certainly something that we never think our children should need to worry about. Unfortunately, tragedies such as school shootings and other emergencies are becoming more common. So how do we talk to our children about such matters?
First, we want to be sure that we approach the conversation in an age-appropriate manner. Younger children can be easily traumatized by too many details or lengthy conversations about personal safety and older children can be bored or turned off if they feel we’re talking down to them. So we need to base our conversation on our individual child’s abilities. How much detail can they handle? Should we break the conversation into smaller 2 or 3 minute mini-conversations over a few days?
Second, don’t lecture. Ask and listen, even if we get no immediate response. For older children, those in middle or high school, we can ask them how they felt when they heard about what happened. If we don’t get an answer right away, that’s okay. Maybe after a moment of waiting, share how we felt at hearing the news. Nothing too detailed, just a feeling or thought. Enough to give them time to reflect and maybe open up to us. For younger children, we may initially identify certain feelings such as ‘scared’ or ‘afraid’ and then ask if that’s how they felt. We don’t want to lead them or tell them how to feel, but show them that is okay to identify with and express those feelings.
Third, reassure. Reassurance can come in many forms. For younger children it may be enough to know that mommy or daddy loves them and will always be willing to listen when they want to talk. For older children, reassurance may come in the form of planning. What to do in the case of an emergency. If they have a cell phone, can they get a call or text out to mom or dad? Simple plans and steps are easily remembered in times of crisis. Ask yourself, how does my child like to be reassured?
Finally, get assistance. School shootings, whether at our children’s school or not, local or across the country, can be traumatic for any family – child or parent. If you have concerns or questions, please look at getting help from a mental health professional. A drop in grades, attendance, interest, appetite, or disruption in sleep can all be signals of underlying trauma. Schedule an appointment so you and your child, or just your child if they’re old enough, can talk to a professional about what they can do to help themselves.
Conversations about school emergencies are not easy but they are vital. Plan ahead for the conversation and be ready to broach the subject. Please, talk to your child today.