Talking to your kids about school shootings is scary, but this is the sad reality parents today have to face.
On October 24th, 2022, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a St. Louis high school, sending several people to the hospital and killing two, a 15-year-old student and a 61-year-old teacher.
If it feels like the worst kind of Deja vu, that’s because it is.
It’s a terrifying time to be a parent in America when sending your kids off to school means fearing for their safety every day. And while talking to your kids about school shootings feels like a nightmare, what could happen if you do NOT talk about school shootings is a far more frightening reality.
But how do you even start a conversation about such tragic events that are, unfortunately, the reality we live in? How do you talk to your kids about mass shootings and gun violence in schools? Experts agree that while it’s a difficult conversation to have, it’s essential to keep kids informed and safe.
Make it OK to Talk About Tough Things
It might feel like bringing up school shootings will scare your children, but not talking about these events can scare them even more.
Be open to discussions, remind them you are there for them, that their feelings are valid, and that they are surrounded by adults who they can trust and want to protect. According to Dr. Gregory Moffatt, Ph.D., a psychologist, homicide profiler, and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Point University, “one of the things parents often fear with anything hard is that bringing up the topic is going to cause problems. Parents need to model that it’s OK to talk about the elephant in the room. Let them know it’s OK to talk about [hard things],” he explains.
Be Honest, but Age Appropriate
Avoid graphic details, especially for younger children. Stick to the facts but keep it very simple for young children — aim for a one-sentence story and focus on the heroes.
For older kids, you can be a little more informative and honest.
Assure your kids that school shootings are very rare, and the reason they do active shooter drills in school is to ensure people are prepared, so nothing bad can happen to them. For teenagers, let them guide the conversation and share what they know, their fears, how they feel and what they need from you.
Prepare for an Ongoing Conversation
Understand this will not be a one-time conversation but rather an ongoing discussion. You can come up with solutions, share emotions, and openly discuss current events. But know that it will occur over time, and for these talks to be successful, you need to let your kids lead. Listen to their questions, be prepared to offer answers, or honestly tell them that you don’t have the answer, but want to work together to get through it.
When in Doubt, Turn to Books and Experts
If you don’t know where to begin, look for books that might help guide your difficult conversations. There are several children’s books about school shootings that can assist you as you navigate this scary and challenging parenting task.
A Kids Book About School Shootings is perfect for parents to read with their kids, ages five and up. I’m Not Scared, I’m Prepared teaches kids the importance of being prepared for dangerous situations at school and makes a scary topic less scary to learn about. And Lockdown Drill at Superhero School strikes a balance of communicating the seriousness of a lockdown without overly scaring kids.
Above all, be there for your kids. Comfort them, support them, be open with them, and be willing to talk about these horrific events, among other tough topics. And give yourself and your kids space to process your emotions along the way.