Easing Child and Teen Anxiety Around Shootings

There is an anxiety about being safe in school given the climate of our nation.  I offer you a few ideas on what to do and say to kids who are feeling anxious about shootings.

  1. Listen with love by looking at them, holding them, resting their head on your shoulder.  “I know you know about the school shootings that have happened, would you like to talk about it?”  Then be quiet.  Maybe ask some probing questions if it feels like want to talk but don’t have a lot to say.  “What do you know has happened?  How are you feeling about it? Say more about feeling worried.”  Or if they aren’t wanting to talk, let them know they can talk with you whenever they need to.

  2. Let them ask questions.  If you do not know the answer or not sure how to answer the question, then let them know it is a great question and you will think about it and get back to them.  Make sure you get back to them. “Do you have any questions for me?  That is a great question; let me do some thinking about how to answer and get back to you.”

  3. Do not overshare.  What a 7 year old should know is much different than what your 14 year old should know.  Children do not need adult doses of information.

  4. Limit tv and online exposure both for yourself and your child.  If your child has access to their own phone/computer, educate them on what binging on the media can do in terms of their mental health and encourage them to limit their exposure.  “Watching media about the school shootings can feel important.  We are curious about all the details and maybe even think watching things over and over will keep us safe.  I want you to know while it can feel good to be in the know about what is happening in the world, it can also make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, and cause problems for us like being afraid to go to school or having difficulty sleeping.  I encourage you to get back to enjoying the things you like to do and if you have any questions about what is happening, know you can ask me. If I don’t know the answer, I will find out, and get back to you.”

  5. Remind them of the unlikelihood of this happening and their teachers being there to help keep them safe.  “It’s scary to know kids have been killed in schools. I want you to remember, you teachers and staff are there to help keep you safe.  If you are feeling unsafe, know you can talk to them. If a drill or event ever happens, follow your teacher’s directions and hide. It will be alright.”

  6. Validate and normalize their feelings.  “This is a sad time. You are worried. You are afraid to go to school.  It’s normal to feel afraid after scary things happen. It is normal to feel sad.”

  7. If you let your kid stay home for a day, be there with them, and get them prepared to head to school within the next day or so.  Keeping kids home only fuels anxiety more. It may look like it is soothing them but in the long run, avoiding what causes anxiety only increases anxiety more.  It’s like the monster in the closet. If we never check the closet and face our fears, the monster gets bigger and stronger. If we open the closet door, we see the only things that exists is our clothes.  “I am so glad we got to spend today together relaxing. Are you feeling ready to go back to school tomorrow? What will happen if you keep missing school? Who do you think missed you today? I know you are afraid to go to school tomorrow; I believe you will be safe and you need to return tomorrow.  If anything bad were to happen, I would get to the school right away. You can trust I would.”

  8. Communicate with the school counselor/trusted staff if your child is struggling with anxiety/going to school.  Let your child have a contact person to connect with until the wave of anxiety passes. You can develop a plan with the staff on how your child can have contact with them.  “You have a great relationship with Mrs. Dator. Do you think we could let her know you are feeling worried and get permission for her to check in with you this week?”

  9. Make room for their feelings and experiences AND get back to life.  Model healthy ways of living and coping and encourage your child to get back to enjoying their life.

  10. If your child is unable to get back to life and cannot move through the anxiety and/or is experiencing depression for more than 2 weeks, get them professional help from a license mental health professional.

  11. Shootings are a trauma experienced by all those touched no matter how distant from the victims.  Remember grief and loss take time to heal. We can grieve the loss of people we don’t know, and we can grieve the loss of our safety.  Parents have a huge responsibility to help their children feel safe in an unsteady time. Do not promise anything you cannot offer but do give them hope.  “Bad things do happen in the world. I believe you will be safe, and I love you.”

  12. Offer a transitional object.  Children and teens can benefit from having something tangible to have to remind them of you and your love.  “I wanted you to have this bracelet to where each day. I am going to wear one too. That way, if you are ever feeling worried, sad, scared, or just missing me, hold the bracelet and know I am thinking of you too.”

  13. Empower your child to tell.  Teach your child that when it comes to the safety of themselves and others, they need to tell a responsible adult.  “If you ever hear anyone in your school talking about wanting to hurt or kill themselves or others, you need to tell a responsible adult right away.  I know you might think it is a false alarm or you might not want to get someone in trouble, however, if it isn’t a false alarm, how would you feel if something did really happen?  It isn’t up for you to decide how serious someone is; that’s too much responsibility for a kid. I highly encourage you to tell me and know I can help do the right thing to keep kids safe.”

 

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