Explaining the Unexplainable:
How to Discuss School Violence with Your Kids
In the wake of the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many of us feel an overwhelming sense of fear and lack of control over such a senseless tragedy. Between social media, word of mouth, and news broadcasts, children are exposed to more and more similar headlines; it can be hard for parents to know how help their children process these tragedies without worsening their anxiety.
Our clinicians at Variations Psychology wanted to share a few insights to guide you in discussing school violence with your children:
Find out what they already know.
Between classmates, TV, and the internet, chances are your child may have already heard some details about the shooting. Ask them what they’ve heard before you start offering up information. Gently correct inaccuracies and let their questions guide what you will share.
Honesty is important.
If your child heard about the shooting from a classmate on the playground, it can be tempting to see if you can get away with telling them it was all made up and didn’t happen. This is not recommended, as silence on a subject suggests to your child that it is too awful to even speak of and can increase their fear of it. Model confidence and assurance in their safety as you speak to them; your kids are looking to you to see how scared they should be.
Keep it age appropriate.
For preschoolers and school aged children, use simple language and avoid gruesome details. Reassure them that they are safe. Give them extra love and attention to reinforce that you are there for them. Remind them of all of the people who are dedicated to their safety – you, their teacher, principal, etc. For adolescents, take time to listen to their feelings and thoughts about school shootings and campus safety. Remind them of what they can do to help (i.e. – reporting strangers on campus or reporting “red flag” behaviors of concerning students).
Stick to your routine
It feels natural to many parents to try to keep their children close after school shootings, but psychologists agree that the best way to model resilience and strength is by showing your child that tragedies will not stop you from living your life. Keep your child’s daily routine the same following tragic events; the consistency of school, homework, and other predictable activities will help retain some sense of normalcy among the chaos of what they’ve learned.
Censor what you can
While you can’t shield your kids from everything, try to be attentive to the amount of media coverage and adult conversations you expose your children to. If you want your older children to watch the news, record it beforehand so that you can review it to decide if it’s age appropriate.
Show a little extra patience
Your child may not blatantly express that they are struggling to process what happened, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t having difficulty coping. In the wake of horrific tragedies, it’s normal for your child to act irritably or have difficulty focusing or completing tasks. Give a little extra patience, comfort, and reassurance in the weeks that follow.
Always give hope
Any time you discuss something traumatic with your child, balance out the conversation with hopeful insights for the future. Share stories of those that survived, of people helping one another, and of the heroism and quick response of the police and first responders.
Find a specialist
While tragedies such as the shooting in Parkland are disturbing to most people, some have a harder time coping than others. If you or your child are experiencing increased anxiety, depression, appetite or sleep changes, seek support from a professional right away. A specialist who understands how trauma affects adults and children and can help you or your child learn coping skills to overcome your fear and anxiety.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: http://www.nctsn.org/
The National Education Association: http://www.nea.org/home/72279.htm
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More about Variations Psychology
Variations Psychology is a group practice composed of specialists in a variety of psychology domains including Clinical Psychology, School and Educational Psychology, Child Development, Psychological Testing, Educational Testing, and Training.
Our specialists provide therapy to children, adolescents, adults, couples and families. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders).
See our Specialists page to select the specialist that best suits your need, or simply give us a call and we will guide you.
Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.