At the epicenter of school shootings, lives have been forever changed and trauma has become part of those communities. The effects of these shootings can also be felt far beyond the epicenter. They have brought on a lot of stress and anxiety for American parents. It is no surprise that the stress and anxiety that adults feel are also felt by children.
It is important to realize that children are very much aware of current events AND most schools are having “active shooter drills”. This topic is highly visible to children and we need to help them manage their feelings around this topic.
How can you talk to children about school shootings?
- Start the conversation: The hardest part is starting the conversation. You may feel the desire to avoid this topic but in reality, discussing school shootings can help children feel less anxious. Ask your child what they already know about school shootings then allow them to guide the conversation and ask questions.
- Normalize the feelings: It is important to normalize the feelings they are having. It is completely normal for them to feel anxious, sad, and/or scared. Allow them to explore those feelings in a safe place.
- Talk about safety: Let your child know that school shootings are actually very rare. Reiterate that schools have taken appropriate measures to help children stay safe. Without getting graphic, ask them what plans are in place to keep them safe at school. They may answer fire drills, active shooter drills, tornado drills, etc.
- Connect with the community for support: Anxiety and fear can make children more reclusive and less sociable. Remind your children of the people within your community that helps keep them safe. Teachers, coaches, cross guard, police, camp counselors, etc. These are the people within the community that are there to keep them safe.
“Hope is the belief that tomorrow will be better than today and that you have the power to make it so.”
During times of high stress, anxiety, and/or adversity students may lack hope. Lack of hope can affect willpower which in turn can make it hard for children to self-regulate. The outcome can be explosive outbursts and impulsive actions.
Dr. Chan Hellman, Ph.D. has studied hope extensively and believes it is the key to social-emotional well-being. Hope is a way of thinking and CAN be taught.
What he has found to be the three key components to hope.
- Set goals
- Identify Pathways: the ability to identify pathways toward goals (problem solve) and Find ways around obstacles.
- Cultivate willpower: the ability to sustain motivation to continue on the pathway in order to achieve that set goal.
In increasing numbers, educators in classrooms nationwide are seeing more and more children exposed to adversity, stress, and trauma. The impact of this trauma on the learning environment is felt throughout the hallways of schools as students struggle with academic performance, disruptive behaviors, and emotional insecurity.