A school shooting is always a tragic event, and they happen often enough that for many people – especially students – that they’ve begun to feel inevitable.
Even if there hasn’t been a school shooting in your community, there may be a sense that it will happen eventually, and that can make news of the latest school shooting in another community feel all the more traumatic and anxiety-producing.
Most of today’s students have no real insulation from the news – they get up-to-the-minute alerts on their phones just like everyone else – which means that every time a school shooting happens, children and teens feel the trauma of it even if it didn’t happen at their school.
Take a look at some of the things that you can do to help your children cope with school shooting trauma
Talk About the School Shooting
As a parent, you may instinctively avoid the topic of school shootings if your child doesn’t bring it up themselves.
This is understandable – if your teen doesn’t seem to be aware of or upset about the latest school shooting news, you may not want to raise a frightening and upsetting topic.
But the reality is that your teens are certainly aware of school shootings and they’re most likely aware of the most recent incident. It’s difficult or impossible to avoid that kind of news, and even if your teen didn’t see or hear about it on the internet, they probably heard about it from a friend that did.
Refusing to broach the subject with your teen yourself can make it seem even bigger and more frightening to them. Bringing it up may actually relieve some anxiety for your teenager.
Ask your teen what they’ve heard and what they think about the incident. Invite them to ask questions and share their concerns with you. Don’t make promises you can’t keep – for example, don’t tell your child that there will never be a school shooting in your community – but do look for ways to reassure your children.
Talk about the precautions and safety measures in place in your child’s school. Ask them if they feel safe at school, and if not, what they think would make them feel safer.
Talk about strategies they can use to keep themselves safe in the event of an emergency. Work together to make a plan for reconnecting with your kids in the aftermath of a school shooting or another emergency or disaster that happens when you’re separated for each other.
Sometimes having a plan can be a great comfort, even if you never need that plan.
Make sure to also acknowledge how your child is feeling. Feelings of sadness, fright, or confusion aren’t wrong, they’re normal under the circumstances.
It’s easy to get lost in the breaking news coverage that follows a school shooting.
Getting the latest news and information can sometimes give worried people a sense of control, but often it ends up being too much.
Encourage your child to take breaks from the news – to go out with friends, read a book, or play a game.
Remind your child that they can catch up with the latest developments later if they want to, but that it’s healthy to take breaks and think about something else for a while. Some teens may feel a form of survivor’s guilt when hearing the news of a school shooting.
Remind them that the incident is not their fault and that fixating on the news of the shooting won’t help the victims. It will only hurt your child, and that’s not what anyone wants or needs.
Look for Ways to Take Action After a School Shooting
Some teens will feel a strong need to do something, anything, in the wake of a school shooting in their own community or another community.
Finding a way to do something productive can be an enormous help to students coping with the distress of a school shooting, so don’t discourage your teen from looking for things to do, even if you’re not sure what they can do.
Students who want to take some kind of action can find good examples in the actions of the teenagers who experienced a school shooting in Parkland, FL. Those teens contacted lawmakers, made trips to their state capitol, and organized a march in response to their own school shooting.
These types of positive actions can be taken by teens anywhere, whether or not their own school has experienced a shooting.
Stress the Importance of Self-Care
Coping with stress and trauma is hard enough when you’re healthy. Not taking good care of yourself physically only makes it harder to deal with emotional trauma.
Stress to your teen the importance of taking good care of their body, especially during a stressful time. They need nutritious food, adequate sleep, and regular exercise, and they need those things perhaps even more at this time than they do at other times.
Encourage your teen to eat well, keep up their regular routines, and take care of themselves generally. Remind them that alcohol and drugs won’t help them manage their emotions and may intensify feelings of sadness and grief.
Help them realize that taking care of themselves should be their first priority and that they won’t be helping anyone else by not taking care of themselves.
Keep an eye out for signs that your teen is struggling more than usual. Prolonged changes in eating or sleeping habits, excessive sadness, anger, or anxiety, or drastic changes in appearance, routine, or behavior could all be signs that your teen isn’t coping well and may need more help than they’ve previously let on.
Children and teens don’t always know how to ask for help or even what kind of help they need. Your teen’s counselor at school may be able to help, or your teen may need to see an outside counselor or therapist to address problems like depression or anxiety that may be triggered by school shootings.
Make sure that your child knows that there’s no shame in reaching out for help – it’s just another part of taking care of themselves.
Teen and adolescent residential treatment program that has the privilege of serving families from throughout the US and abroad.