Upset girl having talk with her mother

With school shootings becoming increasingly more common, it’s important to prioritize youth mental health and talk openly with your child to help them address questions, stress and emotions stemming from these traumatic events.

Supporting Kids and Teens When School Shootings Are in the News

When school shootings are in the news, it can be hard to figure out how to talk about them with your child. But ignoring these incidents is not an option, especially as school shootings have become increasingly more common

School shootings can have a deep impact on the mental health of youth – both those who are directly exposed to the incidents, and those who experience it through the news, social media, online video and through school shooter drills, now common at many schools. The latter is known as secondary trauma, when young people who have exposure to images or stories about a traumatic event experience heightened stress, irritability and sadness.

While we sometimes have the impulse to avoid talking about topics that are difficult or sensitive, doing so leaves your child to process these complex issues on their own and opens them up to confusion and false narratives. 

Intentional, supportive dialogue with young people can help them navigate the many emotions and worries these news stories stir up. Creating a safe space for reflection and questions will empower your child to build critical life skills related to problem-solving, emotion management, resilience and self-control.

Here are some ways to initiate dialogue with your child about school shootings:

Address the Incident Directly

Show your kid or teen that you are aware of the incident and that you understand it may be on their mind as well, and that you’re here to support them. Don’t assume they’ll come to you to strike up conversation. Instead, start an open dialogue by asking them direct questions such as:

  • “Tell me what you’ve heard about [the incident]?”
  • “What do you know about [the incident] that took place this week?”
  • “What have you seen or heard about [the incident] on the news or on social media?”

Show Willingness to Answer Questions

It is important for kids and teens to know that you are here to support them and that they view you as a resource. Make sure to show willingness to talk and answer questions about the incident by saying things such as:

  • “Do you have any questions about what happened?”
  • “I am here to talk and answer any questions you may have about [the incident].”
  • “I know that this is upsetting, so please know that I am here to answer any questions or concerns you have about [the incident].”

 

Validate and Listen to Feelings

Ask your child to share their feelings about the incident and respond with empathy. It is also important to validate their feelings, and not tell them how they should feel or assume you know how they feel. Here are some helpful prompts:

  • “It sounds like you are feeling [sad/upset/scared] about this [incident].”
  • “Do you feel safe at school, at the Club and in our community? What is it that you’re worried about?”

Acknowledge and validate their responses and try not to answer with throwaway statements such as “You are going to be fine” or “I know how you feel,” which can discount their feelings and shut down the conversation. By listening to their feelings and giving them space, you can create a safe environment for your child to bring up their emotions, knowing you’ll always hear them out, no matter what.


More Resources

If you find yourself or someone you know in need of additional support during this difficult time contact:

  • National Alliance for Grieving Children: Find grief support and resources in your area on their website.
  • SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “club” to 741741 to reach this 24/7, 365 days-a-year national text line dedicated to providing immediate crisis text support for people who are experiencing emotional distress.
  • Mental Health America: Find services and support in your area, learn about more about mental health and wellness on their website.


Discover other mental health resources that help youth learn to manage their emotions and build resiliency.

 



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