Ever wonder if our nation’s children really pay attention to school shootings or if they understand the gravity? After all, kids can be pretty self-focused.
Then again, they can also surprise us.
Take a look at a few photos from the student-led March for our Lives, which took place in March 2018 in Washington, DC, and more than 800 other cities around the world. Turnouts were massive.
And in a moving speech by school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez — a speech that lasted six minutes and 20 seconds and included more than four minutes of silence — the burden children bear as a result of school shootings became abundantly clear.
A recent study found that 60 percent of high school students worry about being shot at in school or in their neighborhood.1 And while 40 percent of kids who survive a shooting will go on to battle PTSD, experts agree that, for some kids, merely hearing about a school shooting can induce trauma.1,2
What’s a concerned parent to do?
Start by Processing Your Own Thoughts and Feelings
Treat conversations about school shootings like you would other sensitive topics: by getting a handle on your own emotions, opinions and ideas before broaching the subject with your kids. You might even reach out to your spouse, a friend or family member to help you sort it all out.3
As you work through your thoughts and feelings, be sure to avoid information overload. Ask yourself “Does this article/video compel me toward positive action or simply increase my anxiety?” If your news intake produces unhealthy levels of fear, take a break.
Consider also that, according to Jamie Howard, Director of Trauma and Resilience Service at the Child Mind Institute, young children don’t think about school shootings nearly as often or as intensely as we adults imagine they might.4
Children do, however, absorb what we’re feeling.
That’s why, with little kids and big kids alike, parents should focus on remaining calm, cool and collected in order to give their kids the best chance at doing the same.4
Begin a Conversation With Your Child’s School
One of the best ways to quell worries of “what if?” is to go straight to the source. And while no one can plan for every contingency, a good school will prepare as best they can.
- Current safety measures in place to prevent a school shooting
- Procedures the school would follow in case of an active shooter
- How the school responds to threats of violence
You might also ask what the school needs to become a safer place for its children.
Open the Door for Conversation With Your Kid.
Remembering your calm, cool and collected self, take the initiative to discuss school shootings with your child as you:
Aim for a delicate balance, neither undersharing or oversharing, but instead engaging in a conversation that is both helpful and age-appropriate for your kid. Dr. Allison Agliata, a clinical psychologist, suggests letting your kids lead the way. You might ask what they know about school shootings, how that information makes them feel and what questions they have for you.3
Listen and sympathize.
Be prepared to sit with some discomfort here. Your child may express deep, troubling fears. Resist the well-meaning urge to stifle her emotions. Instead, recognize that your conversation is a healthy one.5 Share a bit of your own feelings as well. Let her know that school shootings make you angry/scared/sad.
State what you know.
Kids are smart. Avoid empty promises — after all, you sadly can’t guarantee they’ll never experience a shooting at their school.3 Stick to the facts.
You can start with a talk on perspective.
- There are more than 130,000 schools (including elementary, middle and high school levels) in the United States.6
- Our nation has seen 16 multiple-victim shootings in schools since 1996.7
Of course, that’s 16 school shootings too many, each with horrid and heartbreaking stories. Each one is a cry for something to be done. We know this, right? Our point in sharing the numbers is this: The chance of your child enduring a shooting at her school is extremely low. And you should feel confident telling her that. You can also let her know what her school in particular is doing to ensure the safety of your daughter and her classmates.
Take Action Together
Fear has a way of making us feel powerless. We begin to conquer anxiety surrounding school shootings by taking control where we can. Encourage action on the part of your child, and look for ways to take action yourself. You might try any of the following:
- Practice deep breathing exercises together.3
- Make plans for how your child will respond if she notices a classmate’s troubled or troubling behavior.7
- Encourage your child to keep a journal or write unsent letters as a way of processing emotions.2
- Volunteer at your child’s school.
- Get involved with groups who are making a difference.4
Don’t stop there. Let your child know you are always available to talk, listen and answer questions, about this or any other subject. You might consider scheduling a regular time to chat.3 You’ll feel more connected and be more readily available when she needs you.
By Stephanie Thomas
1 Bendery, Jennifer. “Good Job, America. Gun Violence is Driving Up PTSD Among Children.” HuffPost, March 7, 2018.
2 Hosseini, Sarah. “If Your Child Is Showing Signs of Stress or Anxiety, This Might Help.” The Washington Post, March 6, 2018.
3 Spector, Nicole. “What Mental Health Experts Say to Their Kids About School Shootings.” NBC, March 23, 2018.
4 Ehmke, Rachel. “Anxiety over School Shootings.” Child Mind Institute, Accessed March 24, 2018.
5 Young, Kevin. “How Parents Can Talk With Children, Ease Their Own Anxiety After School Shootings.” NBCDFW, February 14, 2018.
6 “Fast Facts, Educational Institutions.” National Center for Education Statistics,
7 Nicodemo, Allie, and Lia Petronio. “Schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be, researchers say.” News at Northeastern, February 26, 2018.
8 Gregory, Ted. “As Schools Cope with Safety Threats Since Fla. Shooting, Parents and Leaders Try to Balance Concern With Calm.” Chicago Tribune, March 5, 2018.
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