Sadly, in our society, school shootings have come from a rare tragedy and evolved into a tragic reality. We are all concerned. We may express our opinions, thoughts, principles, and methods of dealing with this horrifying reality. But, I am still getting the same question asked frequently, “How much do we say to our kids and how do we protect them?”
I have no clear-cut, perfect solution regarding acts of pure evil. Unimaginable, catastrophic events, highly covered by the media, introduce children to feelings on levels they are not mentally capable of processing. As adults, we, too, are confronted with these intense feelings, mostly stemming from a very primal source – fear.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, extended family members, and friends share some basic emotions and thoughts regarding the kids in our lives. We share a commonality in the desire for our kids to be safe, not to experience intense pain and suffering, and to never face or witness a devastating tragedy.
As adults, the first step in assisting children exposed to tragedy is to examine our own feelings, fears, and reservations regarding this issue. We must sort through our own angst, anxieties, and terrors prior to discussing this delicate subject with our children.
Reaching out to a friend, another parent, spouse, church family, family member or a “go to” person can help us process our own feelings – allowing us not to express anger, fear, desperation, and anguish to our children. Modeling calmness (fake it ‘till you make it) and self-care helps children tremendously. Whether hitting the gym, a walk, yoga, hot bath, run, meditating, listening to a podcast, reading scripture, reading a book, a discussion with a group of friends, journaling, or conversation over a glass of wine, choose something that will de-escalate the intense emotions to a level where you are comfortable talking to your child.
Begin with allowing the child to take the lead before you overshare details or answer questions you assume they want answered. Ask them if they have any questions and you will learn how much they want to know and what they are capable of handling. Many times, as parents we either make the mistake of avoiding the issue or offering too little information – leading them to wonder and worry silently. If the child is not given an open platform to ask questions, and we jump in there and start sharing our own feelings, it can cause the child to go into “freak out” mode due to information overload.
Establish a routine at an early age that is conducive to inviting conversation. Establish behaviors of your own to model the importance of this time together. Resist your own cell phone or screen time, music playing in your car, the television on, Alexa playing your favorite music, or standing while you expect your child sit and converse with you.
This cannot be demanded, structured, expected, or required. Kids will reject this in a split second. Examples could be: walking your child to school, the car ride to or from school, bedtime, daily devotional, dinnertime, once a week donuts or kid date, family devotionals, story time, or even bath time with younger kids.
Allow children to have feelings. Suppressing them or discounting them encourages a child to either believe their feelings are not appropriate or wrong. The end result is that your child will learn not to share their feelings with you. Children may feel overwhelmed, worried, sad, scared, or curious. Allow them to express these feelings, show empathy, and move on.
We all share the desire to keep our kids safe. I find it extremely disconcerting that, as a parent, it is our job to help kids feel safe in a world that can turn deadly in a split second. Kids look to their parents to keep them safe. Thinking about the “what might or could happen” creates a breeding ground for anxiety, fear, and torment. Focusing on what you can control is key here. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Instead of saying, “I promise you nothing bad is going to happen at your school” a more effective comment might be, “We can only trust what we know for sure and we know your school wants all of their kids to be safe and they do their best to make this happen”.
Thinking about difficult conversations with your child beforehand offers parents different ways to process thoughts and their own fears. In my personal life, I rely on daily devotionals, scripture, and truly trusting and knowing God is in charge.
Our society is complex but if we allow a random horrific event to impede our children from experiencing and exploring life and pursuing who they were created to be, I personally feel we have done them a grave injustice.