Whether or not you choose to discuss tragic events like the shooting in Uvalde, Texas may have much to do with your family’s culture. Some families routinely discuss current events together, while many others don’t. You may want to ask your child questions to determine what they already know, or you may want to hold off to see if they bring it up first. Both are perfectly appropriate responses.

Regardless of their age, if your child is aware of a tragic incident like a school shooting and you want to talk to them about how they’re feeling, it helps to be prepared to address their concerns.

If your child is in elementary school …

  • Look for both verbal and non-verbal cues. Pay attention to your child’s behavior, what they’re drawing, what games they’re playing, etc. If something suggests they feel anxious, ask a simple question like, “What are you drawing?” to start the conversation.
  • Question their question. Try to find out why they’re asking, and what they already know. Rooting out the feeling behind the question is more important than sharing details. You can say, “I think you’re asking because you feel scared. How can I help you feel safe?”
  • Be general but truthful. Strike a balance between assuring your child that there are adults to protect them, while recognizing that in some cases that isn’t always possible. Focus on their environment and what’s in place to keep them safe at home or at school.

If your child is in middle or high school …

  • Listen to what they don’t say. Kids this age may respond with anger or may feel jaded. They may say things like, “Why should I go to school, I won’t be safe there anyway?” This likely stems from fear and wanting to feel safe. Validate what they express. Listening, connecting, and understanding them is more important than what you say in response.
  • Make a plan for change. One of the best antidotes to cynicism is activism. Brainstorm ways that your child can have their voice heard. Can they write letters or call your representatives? Is there a club at school your child can join, or start? Even small steps can make a big difference.
  • Focus on your family’s values. What your child is hearing from their friends at school may reflect views that are different from your own. Take the opportunity to discuss your values and encourage your child to share their thoughts, even if they differ.

Ultimately, if a conversation comes up between you and your child, focus on making space for their feelings, whatever they are. Anger, fear, anxiety. Even humor that you find inappropriate may be used as a defense mechanism. Understand these emotions in the context that your child is using the tools currently available to them to deal with the situation.

If you or your family need additional support, our team of world-class mental health professionals are available to you at any time. Reach out to us at 1-888-927-0839.

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