Helping younger kids after a school shooting


Melissa Martin, Ph.D.



The recent school shootings in Florida affect the children in Ohio and other states because parents and older siblings in Ohio are processing the devastation of the deaths of adolescents. Feelings are raw and overwhelming. Children react to their parent’s reactions. And, of course, parents and adults in American and around the world are feeling distress. Hurting humanity hurts us.

Appropriate communication and conversation will provide comfort and reduce fears for kids. However, children 4 years of age need limited information and only if they are hearing upsetting stories from siblings or preschool classmates. Converse with older siblings about not exposing the younger ones to TV news and to avoid talking in front of them about the school shooting.

What Can Adults Say to Younger Children?

Use age appropriate conversations. Younger children want to know if they will be safe, if parents and family will be safe, and if friends and teachers will be safe? First, adults can validate scary feelings. “I know your scary feelings are big right now and I’m going to listen to you and help you.” Give healthy hugs. Do not tell kids not to worry or be upset because they need to express their emotions. Parents can assure children that their home is safe. “Our family and our home is a safe place.” Parents, teachers, and elementary school counselors can tell children 5 years old that their school has plans in place to keep all the kids safe. “We know what to do to keep you safe. You and all your friends are safe.” Do not say a school shooting could happen anywhere at anytime to children.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, a study revealed that parents overestimate the likelihood of a local school shooting, although researchers report that school shootings are rare—read that again— school shootings are rare. Visit www.freebeacon.com/issues/study-parents-overestimate-likelihood-local-school-shooting/. The study, Parents’ Expectations of High Schools in Firearm Violence Prevention, is available at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-017-0360-5.

Study: Parents Overestimate Likelihood of Local School …

www.freebeacon.com

More than a third of parents believe their local school will suffer from a firearm incident in the next three years despite school shootings remaining rare.

Parents’ Expectations of High Schools in Firearm Violence …

link.springer.com

Firearm violence remains a significant problem in the US (with 2787 adolescents killed in 2015). However, the research on school firearm violence prevention practices …

Telling your children they are safe is not a lie because school shootings are rare. Diving into a deep discussion about the possibility of a school shooting with a younger child can cause worry, anxiety, fear, and terror. Saying, “I’ll keep you as safe as I can” is not recommended. Instead say, “I know how to keep you safe and your school knows how to keep you safe.” School safety drills for younger children in regards to school shootings need to be rare events as well as repeated drills may increase fear and anxiety.

For older children, parents can discuss school shootings as unlikely along with their concerns and fears. Do not feed into the media frenzy.

I suggest a check-in with younger kids before bedtime until daily life returns to homeostasis. Listen as they talk. Validate feelings. Ask for 3 things they liked about their day. Ask if they have any questions for you about anything. Listen to their questions to ascertain their concerns. Classmates may have access to the media and can make comments about death and the shooting on the bus or playground out of sight of the teacher.

Utilizing religion or spirituality during a crisis can be comforting for both children and adults. Gathering at your church, temple, or mosque can provide fellowship.

School staff in Ohio and in your county are processing emotions as well. But, every school has a plan in place for the aftermath of tragedies. Talk to principals and teachers.

Talk to the School Elementary Counselor

The following suggestions are from the National School Counseling Association:

Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress. Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school. Limit exposure to television and the news. Listen to kids’ fears and concerns. Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager might need more assistance. Such indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy…every child will respond to trauma differently.”

Other Resources

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a guide for parents to talk to kids about school shootings.

The National Association of School Psychologists offers tips for talking to children about violence.

Remember, the media dramatizes tragedies for ratings. Avoid media coverage of school shootings for younger children. And sometimes children pretend not to listen when they are listening to every word out of an adult’s mouth so be aware. And calm conversation is the main thing after any tragedy.

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Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.