We are devastated by the Texas elementary school shooting in Uvalde, which has created so many emotions for all of us. The children we care for and work with every day are likely also experiencing big feelings right now. Just as we are all struggling to make sense of what happened, so are the children in our lives. Most children have likely heard about this tragic event through media, so as trusted adults in their lives, we want to help them navigate their thoughts and feelings and identify ways to cope. A few things to keep in mind:
- Take time to have the talks. This is a difficult topic to talk about, and we may feel we don’t have the right answers, so our tendency might be to ignore the event or the issue of gun violence. We want the children to know that as trusted adults in their lives, we are always here for them, especially in difficult times. It is especially important to have proactive conversations about this event and gun violence with school-age children as they are very likely to hear about this event from their peers.
- Don’t ignore the news. Children are sponges. They hear and see everything around them, including the news. They will not be capable of making sense of the current event on their own. Start by asking them if they have heard about the event. If they have heard about the shooting, ask them what they have heard and start there. Meeting our children where they are at is a great place to start.
- Validate their feelings about the event. Every child will have different thoughts and feelings about the event. Some of our children may have anxiety or fear about going to school. Some may experience worry, anger, or confusion. There is no right or wrong way to feel, so validating their feelings and communicating empathy is vitally important.
- Help them identify accurate thoughts and coping thoughts about the event. Although school shootings appear to be happening more frequently, it is still statistically unlikely that our children will be involved in a school shooting. Share helpful information with them and gently help make their catastrophizing thoughts more accurate. Help them identify coping thoughts they can say to themselves instead and coping actions they can take if they start to feel overwhelmed.
- Remind them of what the grown-ups in their lives (including you!) are doing to help keep them safe. Sometimes children don’t notice or understand the things adults do to help keep them safe and looked after. This is a good time to point these caring actions out.
Below are a few links to more guidance and resources:
Parent Guidelines for Helping Youth After the Recent Shooting by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
National Alliance for Children’s Grief
Helping Children with Tragic Events in the News by PBS
Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Coping Tips for Traumatic Events and Disasters by SAMHSA
Crisis Response in Schools by the School Social Work Association of America