This past weekend, our nation experienced two enormous tragedies. As of Tuesday morning, it was reported that at least 31 people were killed in mass shootings in Texas and Ohio just 13 hours apart. The week before, three people were killed and at least 12 others were injured after a 19-year-old went on a shooting rampage at Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California. Regardless of what name we assign to these cowardly acts (i.e., hate-crimes, racism, terrorism), the fact is they were each horrific, evil, and tragic.
Despite not knowing the senseless “reason,” these shootings have left us feeling vulnerable, confused and unprotected—especially because in many ways, we can all relate. How many times have we said to our spouse, “I’m just going to run to Walmart, and I’ll be right back,” or “Let’s go downtown for the day”? No one expects that they or their loved ones will not return home to their family.
As adults, we find it inconceivable to cognitively and spiritually understand and emotionally process what our children are thinking and feeling. Whether you have little ones or teenagers, children only thrive in environments where they feel safe.
So, what can we as parents do to make our children feel safe in such unpredictable times?
As parents, we want to protect our children from the information they receive, but when we don’t even know where to begin, it’s natural for us to want to shy away from the topic. With school and social media being so present in our children’s lives, they will consume the information regardless of our initiating discussions. We also tend to think that not knowing all of the answers is “bad” or “wrong”; when in fact, it shows our children that we are human. In doing so, our children will appreciate and learn from our honesty and integrity.
First and foremost, your child’s age should be indicative of what you share with them. Tweens and teens will be able to understand the facts and identify their fears. However, our elementary school aged children will be a little trickier—sharing too much will unnecessarily scare them, while not sharing enough can leave them with questions and cause them to draw varied conclusions.
You can open a discussion by simply asking your child what they know about the events in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH. Or, if you know that answer, try by directly asking them what they think or feel about it. Children want to be candid and forthright with their thoughts and emotions. Oftentimes, when they feel they can share them with their loved ones, it makes them feel safe and secure.
Having a contingency plan is another way we can make our children feel protected, despite us not having all of the “answers.” Knowing what they should do in case of an emergency helps children feel empowered. You can do this by developing a “safety plan” together. In this safety plan, talk about where to meet, who to call and what to do in case of such emergencies. Sadly, most schools today are prepared for mass shooting scenarios, so you can start by asking what their teachers have practiced with them and use that as a guideline.
Volunteering and helping others is another way of reducing anxiety and giving children a sense that they are doing something to help in their community. It is a good way to model kindness and compassion towards others.