To talk about the Texas school shooting means acknowledging that it could happen in your kid’s school, and no parent wants to think about that.
But while you might be able to shield younger kids from ugly realities, older kids definitely are aware of what happened. And their younger siblings might be made aware, too.
So: How do you talk about it all with them?
“Kids, fortunately, in life are very resilient … but they do need to feel safe and secure and it can be really unsettling to hear about scary things in the news,” said Dr. Gloria Reeves, a child psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. Dr. Reeves is also an Associate Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Her advice is, once you get the conversation started, let your kid ask the questions.
“A lot of times, children have just really simple questions that they want to ask about,” said Reeves. “Making sure that we’re not giving too much or too little information in response … I think it’s really important to limit and restrict how much exposure kids have to social media and to news media after these kind of incidents so they’re not overwhelmed by a lot of information.”
Asking them what they’ve heard or read about can offer a good chance to correct something they might be misinformed about. And if they’re hesitant to really open up to you, ask how their friends are feeling.
“Teenagers are very social creatures, so that’s often a good dialogue,” said Reeves. “What have they heard from their friends? Have some of their friends had challenges with it? That’s sometimes a pathway into talking about their own feelings.”
For younger kids, the emotions and the understanding of what happened are less complex.
“What young children want to know is really, ‘How am I going to stay safe?’” said Reeves. “Really thinking about the security of adults and people who can help them when they’re at home and in the community. It’s not an easy task.”
“Talking about who are the adults they can turn to if they’re worried about their safety when they’re at home, when they’re at school,” she added. Keeping kids on a schedule and routine is also helpful.
But before you do any of that, she also said it wouldn’t hurt to sort out your own feelings with a friend or another adult you can talk with first.
“Some of the challenges are how to manage our own emotions and our own response to such tragedies,” said Reeves. “We want to make sure we have a chance to take care of ourselves and have a chance to talk through and process really challenging topics before we talk to our kids, if at all possible, so that we’re in a good place to be supportive.”
Don’t feel bad if you don’t feel like you have all of, or just the right answers. It’s complicated, harrowing stuff.
“In talking with your child, if they know you’re there for them, and you’re supporting them and you love them, that really goes a long way,” said Reeves. “So your basic parenting instinct to love and protect is really going to help your child to get through these challenging times.”
And while your kids might be your primary focus, check in with teachers and school staff too.
“It’s important,” said Reeves.
“These are folks who really spend a lot of time with our children in the community and I think are also dealing with some really challenging responses to these experiences. There are a lot of folks in the school system, the custodial staff, the helpers, the volunteers, a lot of people who devote a lot to the young people in our communities and so we want to make sure that they are also receiving our support and that we’re checking in with folks.”