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What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers

What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers
Keeping Children Safe

Friday, December 14, 2012

How to Talk to and Reassure Your Children about School Shootings

There was a time when “duck and cover” drills were done in schools as a safety measure in the event of a war bombing or nuclear missile attack. “Duck and cover” has taken on a whole new meaning now with the many incidents of school, movie theatre, and shopping mall mass  & random shootings.

In the news today is the tragic and schocking school shooting and killing of 20 children and 7 adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Also in our recent history of violence were the mall shootings in Oregon, the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin and, of course, the Virginia Tech mass shootings. And who can forget Columbine? In addition, today, December 13, 2012, it was reported that 20 elementary-aged children in China were stabbed.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of such senseless and needless murders. While the murder of anyone is horribly tragic, murders of children are horrific beyond measure. The point must be made that such things happen because of the prevalence of guns and the culture of violence in our society. Those issues need to be addressed, in a common sense way, by the public and by our lawmakers.

Children who have been in schools or public areas where such violence has occurred, as well as children who hear about such violence on the news, can become fearful and even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. Such traumatic effects in children can have physical and behavioral manifestations.  Psychologists and other experts in PTSD, as well as an organization called KidsPeace, dedicated to helping children and parents deal with trauma resulting from such violence, suggest strategies for talking to your children about school shootings or natural disasters.

1. It's vital, after an event that can cause such trauma, that parents listen to their children .and encourage them to express their fears, concerns and trepidations.

2. Regardless of the age of the child, one of the most important strategies is to reassure your children of safety and security by telling them that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all dedicated to, focused on, and working for their safety.  Talk to them about people, such as police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors and all concerned adults in their community whose job it is to protect them.

3. Discussing such things with younger children is more challenging. The type and amount of information shared should be limited to very basic facts. You should use words that they can understand and are meaningful to them. Share with them that some bad people have used violence to hurt innocent people in the area. Tell them that you don’t know exactly why it happened, but the violence has occurred. Avoid going into specific details.

4. School-aged children may wonder or ask if such an event could happen to them. Be truthful to your children. Tell them that it is unlikely that anything like this will happen to them or in their community. Then reassure them by repeating how you, the police, their schools and their communities are focused on working to keep everyone safe.

5. Parents, teachers and all child caregivers should be cautious about allowing very young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or showing such violence. That kind of violence is far too difficult for most young children to process. Personal discussions with them that take place many times over the weeks that follow such tragedies are the best way to share information with young children.

6. When you talk with your preteens or teens, more detail is appropriate, as many will have already seen news broadcasts about the mass shootings. However, don’t allow them to focus too much on any of the graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and fears and focus your discussions on what they are willing to share with you. Even with teenagers, you should still be cautious of how much media they are exposed to regarding such tragedies. Talk directly with your teens about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.

7. Even though teenagers are more mature, you still must remember to reassure teens of their safety and the many collective efforts to protect them. No matter the age of your children, they must hear this message. During tragedies such as public shootings, school shootings or any school violence, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete safety plans should be discussed and agreed upon within your family. Such discussions can provide the most comfort to young children and teenagers.

8. You should watch for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate following such violence. Such anxiety may be a sign that your children, even if they aren’t directly mentioning the tragedy, are troubled by the recent tragic events. You should talk more directly to children who exhibit such signs as excessive worry, head or stomach aches, argumentativeness, irritability, sudden withdrawal, sleeplessness, nightmares, trouble eating as normal, clinging behavior, or reluctance or refusal to attend school.

If you, as a parent, are concerned about your children and their reaction to such tragedies, talk directly with their school counselor, your family doctor or local mental health professional. You can also have your older children visit KidsPeace’s, a teen help website providing anonymous and clinically approved help and resources for them. Access  KidsPeace at the website, www.TeenCentral.Net.

Schools and communities that don't already practice drills to better prepare students, staff, and community members as to safety measures to take to better protect them in the event of similar violent incursions, should immediately implement protective drills nationwide. You, as parents and child caregivers, can also access specific strategies that you and / or your children can take to better protect yours and your children’s safety in the event you or they are ever caught up in any public place where a violent intruder intending violence and mayhem may suddenly appear. Access this information through the following pdf file:

Picture credit: Blake Campbell

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