In the wake of yesterday’s school shooting, my heart breaks for the victims and their families of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the most recent victims of gun violence. Like many of you, I find myself drawn to the constant news updates online, even as someone who routinely avoids the daily news. As I continue to try to process this horrific act, my thoughts naturally shift toward my own children, who are elementary school-age. This is sadly one of many school shootings in their lifetime. As many experts have said, it’s wishful thinking that our children don’t know that these events occur. We live in a digital age which allows us to go online and watch live feeds of events AS THEY HAPPEN. Even if your children are not on social media or are not tech savvy, their friends and friend’s parents likely are and will certainly be talking about it. While we try to shield our kids from the media as much as possible, this event is likely to be the buzz of bus rides and lunchrooms all over the country. I wonder how much my own kids will hear.
As parents, we have to be willing to talk about difficult topics….which means having a willingness to bring up this topic. Talk to your children. Find out what they know and any misconceptions they may have. Give age-appropriate facts and limit media exposure, especially for young children. Reassure them that you and the adults at their school are doing everything they can to make sure they are safe. Talk about the security measures already in place at their school, ie: single point of entry, security cameras, or visitor sign-in policies. For teenagers, ask them directly. Tell them you want to talk to them about the school shooting in Florida and ask what they have heard. Find a time when they are most likely to engage in a conversation, ie: while riding in the car. LISTEN to your children and do not interrupt. Remain calm and be honest. Check back with them from time to time…tomorrow, the next day.
Every child is different in terms of their response to a school shooting. Most kids show no interference of these events on their everyday functioning. Monitor for any signs that might suggest your child is struggling. Most common indicators include excessive worry, nightmares, or difficulty sleeping. Change in school performance, or physiologic signs (such as headaches or stomachaches), can be signs of distress. In the wake of a school shooting, school avoidance or refusal may occur. These signs can be immediate or delayed. Allow your children opportunities to express their thoughts and emotions. For some, supportive counseling may be necessary to achieve recovery.
While we may not be able to prevent these tragedies from occurring, we can help our children to integrate their emotions and cope with these events in a healthy way. Perhaps more important now than ever, hug your kids and tell them you love them.