It is frightening and sad to watch the news and hear horrific stories about children and teachers being killed in our schools. Who could do such a terrible thing to our precious children and teachers?

We all want to understand and know why this happens. As parents, educators, counselors and members of the community, we are left with uncertainties as to how we speak to our children about these shootings and feeling safe in an unsafe world.

Coming from the perspective of a Child Development Specialist, it is a good idea when you are talking to your child to make sure you use age-appropriate words. Words like “violence,” “mental illness,” “gun regulations,” and other expressions may need to be used in a more basic way. An example would be: “People who are bullies may want to get back at other people because they were bullied themselves or mean to them.”

Here are some tips and suggestions for talking to children about school shooting;

  • Some children may be hesitant or not able to initiate this type of conversation. As a parent you may want to ask your child if they feel safe at school, home, or in public places.
  • If they have difficulty expressing themselves then have the child draw a picture, paint, or role-play their feelings. This could be an easier way for some children to express their emotions.
  • If your child asks you why someone wanted to kill so many children, it is alright to admit that you don’t really know. It is important to tell them that this does not happen very often. Express your feelings about sadness or fear for the families and discussing what you can do to help.
  • Never negate or minimize your child’s feelings, so validate them instead. Use phrases like, “This must make you feel sad,” and “Let’s talk about your feelings.”
  • Some children will not want to go to school. Talk about the school’s safety plans and procedures. Discuss fire drills, lining up to go outside, hiding under desks, etc.
  • Also make sure you review your own safety plans for an emergency at home and how to get out. Review Stranger Danger situations, such as not letting any one in at home, who to call, emergency numbers and so on.

There are behavioral signs to recognize in young children when they experience a violent situation. Some children start wetting the bed, crying more often, thumb sucking and having problems sleeping alone.

Teens may also exhibit fears or behaviors after an frightening situation such as not wanting to return to school, grades dropping, withdrawing from the family, fearful dreams, using drugs and alcohol or becoming more argumentative.

You may need to take your child to a professional to receive help.

Empower your child with problem solving strategies such as if you hear or see bullying at your school or cyber bullying then report it to a counselor, teacher, principal, or parent to address the issue immediately. If you hear about an eating disorder, contact a nurse or counselor. If your child has a friend wanting to commit suicide then tell an adult close to them or a professional to get help.

Maintain an ongoing dialogue with your kids… Not just when it has to do with a crisis.