Talking To Your Child About A Traumatic Event Like A School Shooting

What to say to your children about Florida shootings

Children are deluged with media reports on the school shootings in Florida.

When they have questions for their parents, it’s important that parents know how to respond.

To start with, Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, warned parents to be aware of how much news their children are watching:

“For younger children, be mindful of media exposure,” he wrote on the Marietta City Schools Facebook page. Repeated replays of the same event on television news may be perceived by younger children as a succession of new events, making them even more upset.

Austin Burden, 17, cries on the shoulder of a friend after a vigil at the Parkland Baptist Church, for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“For our older children, especially those with access to social media, they may be bombarded with messages and emotions and benefit from a conversation with a parent or educator to process their reaction to such situations,” Rivera wrote.

Parents react after the Las Vegas shootings

Parents, going through their own emotional reactions, should think ahead of time what they plan to tell their children, according to the American Psychological Association.

“It’s OK to practice in your head, to a mirror or with another adult,” said a web posting from the APA. “Some advanced planning may make the discussion easier. You won’t have to think about it off the top of your head.”

Speak plainly about gun violence

The association also suggests:

•Find out what they know. “Ask them ‘What have you heard about this?’ And then listen. Listen. Listen. And listen more.”

•Share your feelings with your child. “They see you are human. They also get a chance to see that even though upset, you can pull yourself together and continue on.”

•Tell the truth. “Lay out the facts at a level they can understand.”

•Reassure them: “At the end of the conversation, reassure your children that you will do everything you know how to do to keep them safe and to watch out for them.”

Many children attend schools where they rehearse “active shooter” drills. But there are other ways to prepare young minds for the dangerous world that we live in.

The APA suggests:

Psychological First Aid for Teachers and Students

“Explaining the News to our Kids” from Common Sense Media.

“The Road to Resilience”

Rivera wrote that Marietta schools will take every precaution.

He also wrote that the system is aware of the emotional fallout from such an event.

“As my wife left for work today she said, ‘Hug our kids extra tight this morning.’ We want to make today as normal as possible for all our children – their innocent young lives deserve as much. At the same time, I want to do our part as a community to be proactive and informed.”

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