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5/25/22blog post

tips for talking to kids about school shootings

Many parents may be wondering how to talk to their child about the recent school shooting. It can be uncomfortable knowing how best to respond when your child asks questions like “Did they catch the shooter?”, “What was the shooter’s name?”, and “Why did he shoot all those people?” It is normal for a caregiver to struggle with how to answer these questions. Am I going to share too much and scare my child? Am I not going to say enough and send the wrong message? 

Dayton Children’s experts say the most important thing you can do is listen and take your cues from them. Parents are encouraged to use the tips below to engage in conversation today and this week with their kids.  

tips for parents 

  1. Ask your child what they have already heard and how they are feeling. Most children will have heard something. It is probably better that your child hears about it from you, as opposed to another child or in the media.  
  2. In general, it is best to share the basic information. Giving too much information can cause kids to feel overwhelmed or even tune out. Be straightforward and direct so that your child knows what’s going on and avoid graphic or unnecessary details. Be aware that repetitive graphic images and sounds may appear in various forms of media and therefore try to limit, if not eliminate, those exposures. 
  3. Convey a sense of support and safety to your child. School shootings are terrible tragedies. Share your own feelings, too — during a tragedy, kids often look to adults for their reactions. It helps kids to know that they are not alone in feeling anxious. Knowing that their parents have similar feelings helps kids legitimize their own. At the same time, kids often need parents to help them feel safe. 

It’s also important to recognize signs that your child may not be coping well with what he/she has heard or seen. Some things to look for include: 

  • Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances. 
  • Physical complaints: Your child may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, or generally feeling unwell. You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual. 
  • Changes in behavior: Look for signs of regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of tobacco, alcohol, or substance use. 
  • Emotional problems: Your child may experience undue sadness, depression, anxiety, or fears. 

Unfortunately, we live in a time where tragedies like these are more frequent, and they certainly take an emotional toll. By listening to our children and engaging in supportive conversations, however, we can help them to develop the resilience skills they need to manage their emotions. If you are concerned about your child and their response to this tragedy (or any other), please reach out to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional or counselor. 

To learn more about talking to kids about other current events and how to cope with stress as a family read our On Our Sleeves guide