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How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

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If a child doesn’t ask questions or seems indifferent, should parents broach the subject anyway?

Not always, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The key here is to listen and observe.

  • LISTEN: Younger children may not be able to verbalize their feelings or ask specific questions, so you need to listen carefully. Older children are more likely to talk to each other rather than to their parents.
  • OBSERVE: If your child hasn’t mentioned the tragedy at all, you may have to observe to learn why. This is so important for parents to do. Rather than talk, children may isolate themselves in a bedroom. Other signs that something is bothering them include inability to sleep, nightmares, headaches, or tummy aches. If you observe your child sitting in front of the TV, watching the news over and over, sit down with them and ask what they are thinking about.
  • ASK: You might want to ask the child if he or she has heard about the shooting, or what they thought about it. When asked, most children will respond and initiate a conversation.

If your child seems fine and is going to school, playing, talking, and seems to be in a relatively good mood, it may not be necessary to start lecturing or bringing up something that may not be significant in your child’s life at the moment. Psychologically, we tend to pay attention to what is happening right in front of us. Depending on what’s going on in your child’s life, he or she may have many other things to think about.

There’s no reason to rush in or assume that your child has been directly or negatively impacted by this event. Things like this can take time to settle in. Even in adults, it sometimes takes awhile to process tragedy.

What should parents do if their child doesn’t want to go to school?

That’s the time to really ask questions like, “Are you afraid?” If the answer is “yes,” ask “What are you afraid of?” Reasons may vary from fear of being shot or killed to fear of a friend being shot or killed or perhaps knowledge of another student who is not attending school.

School is a child’s community, an outlet in which to express themselves and where appropriate interventions can take place. Come January, after school breaks are over, it is my hope that schools will be prepared for this. As much as a parent can do, the burden will, for better or worse, fall on the schools. They need to come up with a safety plan, open the lines of communication with parents, and have someone available to speak with the children.

If your child is fearful, you can phase school in slowly. You may tell them they can attend for a half a day to see how it feels. You can arrange to personally drop them off and pick them up for awhile. You and your child can meet with the principal, school counselor, or teacher to see what you can do to help your child reenter school life.

What are the warning signs of deep psychological trauma?

Children can’t always conceptualize or verbalize their feelings. Headaches, sleep disturbances, or other physical ailments sometimes signal emotional upheaval. As a first step, take your child to your family doctor or pediatrician. If your doctor feels it is warranted, don’t hesitate to seek professional counseling.

Keep in mind that much is dependent on what has happened in a child’s life before this trauma, and what they face in the future. If the child already had emotional problems, an event like a school shooting may feed into that. Each child’s experiences are different.

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Read more: Anxiety, Children, Community, Depression, Family, General Health, Health, Life, Mental Wellness, News & Issues, Spirit, Stress, Teens, ,

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Ann Pietrangelo

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis and Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. She is a freelance writer and member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

33 comments

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9:10AM PST on Dec 25, 2012

Great, thanks!

3:59AM PST on Dec 20, 2012

Muita tristeza pelo ocorrido contra as crianças e adultos vitimas do atentado na escola.Espero que desarmem o mundo todo.E investiguem o que de fato aconteçeu para um rapaz de 20 anos cometer um ato insano como o ocorrido.

3:17AM PST on Dec 20, 2012

Thanks

12:46AM PST on Dec 20, 2012

Very good article, thanks!

11:22PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

Also talk to your children about how the school system is grooming them to be debt-ridden, sheep, who don't ever really question the M.O. of the system-at-large NOR ask the questions that can truly get to the heart of the matter of violence/disrespect for life at the root/foundation of the system.

5:45PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

What I'm wondering about is how people explain to their children the utterly shameless remarks the likes of Huckleberry-Mike et al. made after this massacre. In fact, I'm wondering how people who voted for that freak from Arkansas in the primaries explain to their children why they voted for that cold-blooded jerk.

4:29PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

So sad that we even have to have such talks with our children/grandchildren.

3:58PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

wish we would never have to have these conversations with our children

12:54PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

Thanks

12:38PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

Thank you ... very helpful.

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