How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

Talking to your kids about school shootings is not an easy thing to do, and it can be tempting to avoid the subject altogether. However, according to mental health experts, it’s extremely important to have these difficult conversations with your children in order to help them process these tragic events and rebuild a sense of safety.

Here are some key points from our clinical team of mental health experts to keep in mind when talking to your children about school shootings.

age-differences

Developmentally Appropriate Conversations

 A good place to start the conversation about a school shooting is to determine your child’s awareness and understanding of the event and gauge their emotional reaction. Listening to their explanation of events allows us the opportunity to gently correct any misinformation about what happened. While encouraging them to voice their thoughts and feelings, provides validation and leaves the door open for future conversations.

Information parents provide about school shootings should be tailored to a child’s developmental needs. We recommend providing Children in early elementary school with simple and truthful explanations about events which focus on a reassurance of safety.
Older elementary aged children and middle schoolers may focus more on how these events challenge the reality of safety in their everyday lives. It may be helpful to reassure children of this age group by exploring specific ways in which safety is maintained in their environments. Older middle schoolers and high schoolers may focus on exploring their beliefs about why violence like this occurs and ways in which things can be changed to decrease it. These children should be encouraged and reminded of ways in which they can contribute to safety in their environments.

Some children may find expressing their thoughts and feelings verbally more difficult. In this case encouraging expression and communication through play (drawing/coloring, painting, writing, colors, objects, books, etc.) may be more helpful than a direct conversation.

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Reassurance of Safety

 Whether far or near, school shootings can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear about safety. Children of all ages can be provided significant reassurance by the adults in their lives about the safety of their homes, schools, and communities. Reminders of the ways in which safety is maintained in these environments such as, locking doors, practicing emergency drills, and being able to identify trusted adults, may be helpful. In situations like these children need to be reminded that the adults around them are there for them and are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

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Exposure to News

 It is important to monitor and limit children’s exposure to news media coverage of school shootings. Though children may seek out information and want to “keep up to date,” repeated

exposure to footage and details of school shootings can heighten anxiety. This also applies to social media platforms children have access to. For older children, the goal is not to shield them from awareness of these events, but to reduce stress by providing reliable information and limiting retriggering anxiety and fear.

 

Maintain a Normal Routine

 Maintaining daily routines can provide continued stability and safety for children when things seem out of control. Being able to rely on as much predictability in their lives as possible can mediate the after effects of community violence like school shootings.

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Taking Care of Yourself

 As parents/guardians, it’s easy to focus only on the needs of our children. But, remember it is important to prioritize your own needs so that you can be there for them. This may be a good time to utilize supportive resources such as spouses, friends, family, religious communities, cultural communities, and mental health services.

 

Be Mindful

 Most children experience less and less anxiety and fear about a school shooting event with time. For children directly involved or living in the communities where a school shooting has occurred this will be a longer process. Pay attention to changes in children’s behavior, such as reduced or increased appetite, sleep disturbance, avoidance of situations, irritability, “acting out,” etc. as these can be an indication of increased emotional distress. For children and families that have experienced previous trauma, events like school shootings can also have a longer lasting emotional effect. Mental health services may be needed for children and families to whom these situations apply.

 

Final Thoughts & Additional Resources

 If you or your children need additional support processing and healing from exposure to difficult events like school shootings, you are not alone.

We encourage you to explore the following resources for additional support if needed:

  • SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357, free, confidential, 24/7, 365-days-per-year, treatment and referral information service (in English and Spanish)
  • SAMHSA National Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990, 24/7 connection to the nearest crisis counseling center for those who have directly experienced a traumatic event or disaster, support for over 100 languages including ASL (when video calling used)

If you feel your child may need to speak with a professional for ongoing care, your primary care provider and/or insurance plan can be a good place to start for referrals. Valera Health also offers telemental health for children and adolescents, including individual therapy and psychiatry services. Visit www.valerahealth.com to request a consultation.

How You Can Support the AAPI Community Right Now

While anti-Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) racism has existed in this country for a long time, there has been a rise of misplaced fear, anger, xenophobia, and violence since the start of the pandemic. This came to a tragic head earlier this week, on March 16th, when eight people, including six Asian women, were murdered in a series of racially motivated attacks at three Asian-owned day spas in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Why is this happening?

This is only the latest in a long string of anti-Asian hate incidents. Asian Americans have been taking the brunt of America’s pent up anger and violence in response to the pandemic–from the dog-whistled label of the “Chinese Virus” or the “Kung Flu”, to the steady rise in reports of verbal and physical attacks.  According to the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate, there have been nearly 3,800 instances of attacks against Asian Americans in the last year, most of them against Asian American women. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University revealed that in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 150% in 16 cities in the United States.

“Asian deaths will not bring the pandemic to a stop nor will it fix it. To those who remain silent about the racism that is happening towards the Asian community: your silence is deadly.” -Esther Ng

Silence is deadly. Racism needs to be called out in any and every form. While this obviously means harsh condemnation of the recent violence we’ve seen, it also means calling out more insidious kinds of anti-AAPI racism, such as the Model Minority myth that pits Asian and Black Americans against each other, or the fetishization of the “exoticism” of Asian culture and beauty. Another important factor that feeds into anti-AAPI sentiment is the myth of the ‘perpetual foreigner’, when non-White Americans are perceived as foreign or non-American because they belong to a minority group. While this is mostly manifests as a passive microaggression (e.g. questions such as “where are you really from?”), in its most aggressive form it takes the shape of violence towards the perceived ‘other’. Combined, these factors lay the groundwork for anti-AAPI sentiment and racially based violence.  

What does this mean?

Following this incident, Asian Americans were put in a position where they needed to show up to work and school, to take care of their families, and somehow proceed with their lives after experiencing trauma on a national scale. In the mental health community, this meant that Asian therapists somehow found the bandwidth to hold space for their clients, while also holding space for themselves. 

Therapy is political. It must be. Therapy without social justice keeps those who have privilege complicit in their privilege and perpetuates harm towards anyone else. At Valera, we are committed to removing barriers of discrimination and making high quality mental health care accessible for everyone.  It is not enough to be passively non-racist, we are devoted to being actively anti-racist in everything we do.  

Where do we go from here? 

For the Asian community, there is no right or wrong way to be feeling, processing, or grieving right now. Here are some resources to access for care and community support: 

If you are a non-Asian person, it is vital to be a vocal ally at this time. Here are some places to learn more from,  donate to, and volunteer with who are actively combating anti-AAPI racism: