That pit in your stomach you get when you hear about yet another school shooting and the anxiety you feel sending your child to school is normal. So what do you say when your child asks what to do in the event of a school shooting at school? How can you possibly explain this to your kids and how to do you talk about it? What if your child is feeling anxious going to school, what can you do to help? All of these questions come to mind.
Here are a few strategies:
Support system and coping skills
First, you as a parent must take care of yourself first and rely on your support system. It’s like that metaphor of the airplane oxygen mask…you must put your own mask on first before helping others. Talk to friends, family or other parents about your own concerns or feelings of anxiety…you are not alone! Daily rituals like meditation, yoga or exercise to de-stress and improve your mental health is essential and will be beneficial both for you and your child.
Let your child lead the conversation
Since, like many parents you may not be sure where to begin, ask your child what questions they have about this event and other difficult situations. This ensures you are answering their questions, while not sharing too little or too much.
Talk regularly with your child
Talk to your kids one-on-one about school and anything else on their mind. Have a safe space for children to trust they can share their concerns. A good time to do this may be in the car on the way to/from school, extracurricular activities or at bedtime. Have screen-free family time for example at dinner (where everyone puts their phones or laptops aside) and talk openly about what’s on their mind. Say things like “How was school today?” or “What did you do at school today?”
Teach your child coping skills to de-stress
Practice coping methods like deep breathing and grounding exercises while in a calm state, so it’s easier to do when your child is feeling anxious. Hot Cocoa Breathing Technique or Figure 8 Breathing can be very effective and used anywhere if your child is feeling anxious. A grounding exercise can also be useful to practice and decreases anxiety.
Encourage your child to acknowledge their feelings
Encourage your child to express their feelings. The reality is with social media children are exposed to more information than ever before. They are on snapchap, youtube and instragram. Ask them how they feel about what’s posted there, and if they are having any strong feelings about them. Ask if they are feeling overwhelmed, worried, sad or scared about anything and if they would like to talk about it.
Limit exposure to media
In this day and age this is difficult, but if you can limit the amount of violence your child sees in the news, TV show or social media. Research has shown often young children when watching something on TV believe it is actually reoccurring.
You cannot mess this up if you love your child and talk with them
There is no manual on how to talk to your child about school violence and there is no right or wrong way to do this…just talk to them. Show them you love them and empower them to focus on what they can control instead of what could happen.
Know the warning signs
Most children are resilient and will return to normal after exposure to violence in the news, however children with anxiety may need more help. If your child worries excessively, does not want to go to school, has difficulty sleeping, displays changes in school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, or losses interest in activities they once enjoyed they may be experiencing anxiety or trauma it may be helpful to seek professional help by contacting tycounseling.com.
By: Allison West Kaskey M.Ed., Eds., LPCC-S
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