It seems school shootings have become a nearly weekly occurrence. Whenever you look at a family magazine online, you’re likely finding articles about how to talk to kids about gun violence. The gun debate rages on, and even the youngest students are being exposed to conversations. How do you as a parent handle this? It may seem tempting to avoid the topic so you don’t stir up anxiety in your kids, but the reality is that not talking about it makes fear worse. Here are some ways to have the hard talk:
1. Ask and listen
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is listen. Ask your kids what they’ve heard about the shootings and what they’re feeling. Young children may be confused about what exactly is going on, and facts can get twisted. Children of every age will be emotional, too, and you need to be tuned into those feelings. Just let them vent for now. They aren’t looking for an argument, and older kids know that answers won’t be easy.
2. Reassure them
Even if you’re just as terrified as they are, don’t let them know that. You can empathize, absolutely, but don’t say things like, “I feel sick worrying that whenever you leave for school, you won’t come back, because it’s hell out there.” That won’t help. Instead, reassure them. You want to be a comforting presence, not a fearful one.
3. Guard your youngest kids
For really young kids, images are more powerful than words. While they won’t fully-understand debates about gun rights and so on, they do understand the image of terrified parents outside a school surrounded by police. Keep the news off. Every kid is different, and while some young ones have a really good grasp on their emotions, others don’t. You should be the one doing the talking and deciding what your child can handle.
4. Don’t lie
While you should be reassuring and comforting, you shouldn’t lie to your kids either, especially older ones. Kids today are smart and get exposed to a lot of media you can’t control. The older ones might hear every side of the debate, and are fully-aware that schools are becoming more dangerous while the debate gets more complicated and hostile. Don’t pretend that everything is fine and that there’s no way something like this could happen to them. This makes it seem like you’re dismissing their worries.
5. Encourage your proactive teens
This generation’s teens are more proactive about issues they care about than any other generation before them. While there are differing views on March For Our Lives, the fact remains that it was organized by kids who want change. Encourage this in your teenager. They should feel like they have a say in what’s going on in their schools and community, and that you will be there to back them up.
6. Watch for signs of anxiety
No matter what age your kid is, you should keep a close eye on them in the weeks and even months following a widely-publicized school shooting. Anxiety takes on many forms, and can look like insomnia, irritability, mood swings, acting out, under-eating or overeating, frequent illness, and so on. Everyone expresses anxiety in different ways, so read about it and learn to identify symptoms in your child.
7. Consider taking your child to therapy
Sometimes your child’s reaction to school shootings might be above your pay grade. If you feel like your child is suffering and nothing else helps, you should think about taking them to a trained professional. They might feel more comfortable sharing their deep thoughts with someone they aren’t as close to, and a pro will be able to give them techniques on dealing with their feelings.
Click on our family magazine online article (here) to learn more about how anxiety manifests in kids.