I am a home decor blogger, that is what you know me as. But what you might not know is that I am also a Certified School Counselor with my Masters in Counseling and School Counseling with over 10 years of (previous) counseling experience. I’m brushing off my counselor hat today in hopes to help anyone wondering how in the world you talk with your children about something as horrific as a school shooting. My heart absolutely breaks for all involved in today’s Connecticut school shooting. I’m the mom of a kindergartner and a second grader and tears spring to my eyes when I think of the grief those parents are currently experiencing. Our prayers for comfort and strength go out to the families and faculty.
So what do you say to your children about something so horrific? Should you even discuss such things? The answers to these questions are going to greatly depend on the developmental stage of your kiddo. Below are some of my tips and suggestions for talking with elementary-aged children:
- Find out what your child already knows and discuss honestly. Ask your child if his/her teacher discussed the incident today? Listen for any misinformation and discuss the situation honestly but without graphic detail. Shelter your kiddos from the gruesome facts.
- Kids take their cues from you so be strong and calm. This situation is heartbreaking and shock, outrage, and tears are all normal and healthy reactions. However, when talking with your kids try and be in a place of calm.
- Monitor your viewing of the news in front of little ones. The news is scary for adults let alone children. We all want to know the latest news, but it’s unfair to subject our kiddos to potentially traumatizing material. Perhaps watch on your computer or phone with earbuds or when children are out of earshot.
- Ask your child if they feel safe at school? At home? Some little ones will be hesitant to talk. I often used paper and crayons with prompts to coax kiddos to express their feelings. In this situation, I would ask a child to draw me a picture of all the things that make them feel good and safe. I would then ask them to draw a picture of things that might make them feel unsafe at school and/or at home. Then I would ask the child to explain their drawings to me and discuss the fears and emphasize the strengths. The goal here is to allow your child to express his/her feelings and reassure him/her that their world is safe.
- Reiterate the safety procedures in place at your child’s school and the rarity of school shootings. Situations like this can cause anxiety in kids about school attendance. Talk about the rules and procedures in the school (i.e. no running in the halls, fire drills, etc.) that keep the school a safe place. Most schools have sign-in procedures and locked doors with buzzers for entry. Emphasize all the ways your child’s school is made to be a safe place. Discuss safe adults (principal, teacher, specialist teachers, school counselor, nurse, lunch monitor etc.) who your child can talk to when/if they ever feel unsafe. Make sure your children know your telephone number and address! This is a great time to review.
- All grief touches upon previous grief and brings previous loss to the surface. Sad news of any kind can bring to the surface unresolved grief, especially in children. If you’ve had a death of a loved one or loved pet, don’t be surprised if your child expresses missing that loved one. This is a good opportunity to teach your child empathy for what those who have lost loved ones are also feeling. Reaffirm your child’s feelings and express your religious beliefs. I would reaffirm to my boys that we have hope because we will see our loved one’s again in Heaven.
- Empower your children. I can’t say it enough. Children have a basic developmental need to feel that the world is a safe place. Beyond just empowering your kids with knowledge of how to keep themselves safe in an emergency situation, help your children feel helpful right now. Brainstorm with your child how they can make their world a better and safer place and help your child act on those suggestions.
Hug your kiddo tight today and please pray for those who lost theirs. Blessings.