Families have always had to have tough conversations, but one that is new to twenty-first century parents involves school safety and acts of terror. Shootings in schools and public places seem to occur on a regular basis, so in a world of such uncertainty, how do parents talk to their children about these events and, more importantly, calm their fears?
Dr. Dana Watson, licensed clinical psychologist with Families, Inc., recently spoke with KAIT’s Diana Davis about how parents can approach their children about school shootings and reinforce a sense of safety.
Before talking to your child, there are three things to keep in mind:
- Process your own thoughts and feelings first and then decide what message you want your child to come away with.
- Make sure the conversation is tailored to your child’s age and level of understanding.
- End on a positive note—always reassure your child that there are more good people in the world who want to help him or her than bad people who wish to cause harm.
Children’s concerns and fears about school shootings largely depend on their ages and awareness about such events. Keep in mind that young children are unlikely to have any knowledge about the dangers of mass shootings as they are too young to notice media coverage. Unless they bring up the topic, it is best not to create a new concern for them.
For children a bit older, avoid providing too many details. When they ask questions, give them a simple answer and reassure them that there are good people at school, who are there to protect and help them.
Older children need to have open conversations about this topic. Ask them what they know and how they feel about school safety. Talking through these concerns not only puts their minds at ease, but it also teaches them how to cope with stress and fears in the future.
One way to creatively reinforce positivity in children and adolescents is the use of temporary tattoos. Whenever children look down on their hands, wrists or arms, they are reminded that they are loved, strong and in control of their emotions.
When children—of any age—are afraid to go to school, talk to them about the measures in place to keep them safe and remind them that there are more good people in their lives than bad people. Their teachers, administrators, school resource officers, local police force and even volunteers are committed to providing a safe learning environment. In addition to talking to your child, alert his or her teachers about these fears so the school can reinforce the message that school is not a scary place.
Of course, there are instances when fears can become debilitating, affecting behavior, school performance and over mental health. In the case that the above efforts fail to calm your child’s concerns about school safety, contact a mental health professional. Families, Inc. has counselors who specialize in family therapy designed to improve relationships with children and adolescents. Give us a call today if you think your family could benefit from a conversation with a professional.