NOTE: How to talk to kids about school shootings

The world remains in hurt, pain, and lost loved-ones. Many are now in fear, after 17 people were killed in a Florida High School Wednesday.

Parents all over the world are now reluctant to leave their kids at school after dropping them out, only to hope for the worst. Thinking about a deadly shooting rampage, like the one in Parkland, FL, where 17 people were killed.

A Valentines Day left many in positions they’ve never been in.

The question we pose to you today is, How can parents best handle talking with their children about gun-related, or any other, violence?

Talking honestly and openly, considering a child’s age and emotional needs and without adding unnecessary dread and fear, is critically important.

Licensed psychotherapist Fran Sherman of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. give us some tips.

1. Never lie to your children. Ever. 

“If it’s a teen, you’re going to talk to them in a different way than you’d talk to 6-year-old. Talk to them at an age-appropriate level,” she said. “That’s very important. And it’s all about honesty. Think always: honesty.”

2. Some children don’t need to hear about a mass shooting, period.

“I don’t think you need to bring it up with very young children at all if they’re not going to hear about it otherwise,” Sherman said.

“Older children are going to hear about it, and you absolutely need to talk to them, she said. “It’s all over the place, with social media, immediately.

But with a younger child … a parent of younger children is teaching them about stranger danger and being safe. We don’t want to bring more scary things into their lives unnecessarily.”

3. Always validate your child’s fears.

“You might not agree with your child, but don’t dismiss their fears,” Sherman said. “If they’re afraid to go to school, validate that. Tell them: ‘I understand that you’re afraid. I’m afraid, too.’ And talk to them.”

Scary stuff will always be happening, but you can reinforce what they need to do to stay safe. If something happens while they’re in school, they should follow directions from adults in charge.

And at home, grieve and heal in personal ways that families can share.

“If you believe in prayer, pray for safety, for peace, whatever it is you and your family do,” Sherman said. “And really talk about what’s going on, about the world, about their fears. They’re real.”

3. Encourage children to report possible danger.

While children naturally don’t want or are afraid to tattle on others, Sherman said they need to know it’s OK to report odd or unsettling things they see or hear. Whether it’s about a friend threatening self-harm, disturbing images of guns and knives, or violence on social media, assure young people they’re doing right by speaking out.

“Let them know: They can save somebody’s life, a lot of lives. Let them know that if they see something, they can let the parent take over,” she said. “The parents can call the school, the authorities, somebody who can help.”

4. Spend family time together in troubled times.

“When something like this happens, I remind everyone to do things as a family. Spend time together, as much as you can,” Sherman said. “It’s hard, but it’s true: You really never know when anything can happen. Make the most of that time together,”

5. Be kind.

It sounds simple, but teaching kindness in a scary world is important.

“Talk to your children about love. Talk to them about being kind to each other,” she said.

And avoid being cruel, critical and dismissive of others on social media yourself as you talk about volatile subjects.

“We all need to do as human beings what makes us feel safe,” Sherman said. “We need to stop belittling others, demeaning each other, spewing out hate.”

Age-appropriate tips

1. Preschoolers

Be careful about what’s on TV — and the conversations you’re having. Children mirror their parents.

In this digital age, kids expect parents to be on their phones, scanning through social media. Try to mask your facial expressions if you read something negative or heartbreaking.

The best thing to do is to keep the news away from them unless they ask.

2. Elementary-schoolers

Don’t skirt the issue.

Ask the kids what they’ve heard. Ask them questions. Encourage them to ask you questions.

Don’t shield them from the truth, but do take account their age. Generalize the information if they’re young.

Another good tip?

“Talk about probabilities, the likelihood of it happening,” Emily Tonn of Pamper Your Mind in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., said in a 2016 parenting column.

And perhaps come up with a family safety plan for home and school and places to meet in case of an emergency.

3. Middle- and high-schoolers

They’re getting info from friends, teachers and more. They’re hearing so many things in their own circles that they may not even come to you.

Try asking: “What have you heard? What do your friends say? What have you seen on social media?”

Then just be frank. Some kids won’t want to talk, and that’s OK.

Reiterate the family safety plans, just in case.

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