By Michael Klinkner, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
In 2022 there were 51 school shootings in the U.S. leading to 140 injuries or deaths. Most students today, including those in preschool and kindergarten, participate in active-shooter drills at school as regularly as they practice fire drills.
The statics are sobering, and these violent and unpredictable incidents can often lead to emotional conversations filled with complex questions that are difficult for parents to navigate.
Sometimes parents worry that bringing up the topic of school shootings will make their child more nervous or anxious about the topic. But it’s quite the opposite. When a parent avoids a topic, it often makes it even scarier for a child. Openly talking about school shootings can help lessen your child’s fear and anxiety. While it’s not easy to find a natural time to bring up school shootings, it is important that you do.
Here are a few key points you will want to cover in your conversation:
- Focus on safety. Start by asking your child what they already know about school shootings. Allow them to express their concerns and ask questions. Be sure to validate any fears they have, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their concerns. Reassure them and be honest. Be sure you use facts to address their issues. If your child has questions you can’t answer, that’s okay. You can research the information together.
Try not to go into graphic details. Focus on safety precautions and help kids identify the plans in place to protect them in all types of emergencies.
- Reiterate that it’s normal to be scared. Everyone feels afraid when they’re in danger. Fear is our body’s natural protection and helps prepare us for action in times of danger. Help your child understand that their gut responses are normal.
- Look for leaders. Remind your child that adults (such as parents, teachers, leaders and first responders) are in place to keep them safe at school. Many of the adults are even specialty trained to manage these situations and ensure students are safe.
- Adjust the conversation based on your child’s age. As a parent, try to keep the conversation more general with less specifics for younger children. However, tweens and teens can likely handle a more in-depth discussion about school safety. The goal with any conversation is to help your child feel as comfortable as they can about school safety. You can even talk to your tweens and teens about what some potential solutions might be or how they can work to keep themselves and their peers safe at school.
- Lead by example. As a parent or caregiver, your ability to listen calmly to your children’s concerns is one of the most powerful ways to help them feel safe and secure during chaotic times. Monitoring your reactions and responses to school shootings is a great way to exemplify that normal routines still exist, even when things feel unnerving in the world.
Talking with your children about school shootings can be intimidating. Keep in mind the conversation should be focused on safety and the precautions in place to protect your child while away from home. Bringing up the topic can be hard, but in the end it’s worth it for your child’s emotional wellbeing.
Michael Klinkner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. He is also certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Klinkner provides individual, group and family therapy to children, adolescents and adults in Central Phoenix and Gilbert, Ariz. Klinkner focuses on treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma and ADHD. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/michaelklinknercounseling/ or https://instagram.com/michael_klinknercounseling