Two more mass shootings in the news, this time in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. It’s been a year and half since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy, only 20 minutes away from where I live.
While back to school shopping at the mall this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the crowds of people. I couldn’t help but think that something horrible COULD very well happen there. I looked down at my six-year old son holding my hand, and felt I needed to warn him. I explained that it is important that he listen carefully and follow our instructions because if there is ever an emergency, we will need to run quickly and hide safely. He looked at me with his beautiful brown eyes, nodded and tightened his grip on my hand.
As much as it broke my heart to shatter my son’s innocence with the harsh reality that our world is not safe, it had to be done. The truth is that children hear about mass shootings despite our efforts to shield them from the horror. It is not an easy conversation to have, but it is an important one. Mass shootings are happening often and kids need to know what they can do to feel safe.
We already take safety precautions in our daily lives. Whenever we get into a car, we put on our seatbelt. We have security systems in our homes to keep ourselves and our valuables safe. Before we board a plane, we go through security checks and once on the plane we are taught how to access our oxygen masks. In Florida, during hurricane season we stock up on hurricane supplies. We board up our homes or even evacuate once it is known that we are in the path of a hurricane. In school, our kids participate in drills in case of a fire, a tornado and more recently in case of an active shooter.
As a family you should have a safety plan in an active shooter event. Children tend to feel safer when they know that their parents have a plan of action. Our job as parents is to help them feel safe.
Here are some tips in talking to your kids about mass shootings:
- Be honest about the facts.
- Share developmentally appropriate information.
- Keep it short.
- Allow for processing of feelings and thoughts.
- Validate their feelings.
- Present the family safety plan.
Here are some behaviors children may display:
- Regressive behaviors (i.e., behaviors they have grown out of such as bed wetting, thumb sucking etc.)
- Difficulties sleeping
- Complaints of stomachaches or headaches
- School refusal
- Irritable mood
- Panicky feelings
- Changes in appetite
The above symptoms are considered to be a normal response to trauma and normally resolve within a few weeks. However, if these symptoms persist, they can interfere with your child’s everyday functioning.