One of the scariest things after the mass shootings in San Bernardino for parents is how to discuss the horrific events with their children.
Introducing concepts that are too complex can make a situation more confusing and scarier for children. The National Assn. of School Psychologists developed guidelines for explaining violent events to kids of different ages, and San Bernardino City Unified issued tips to their teachers on how to talk to kids. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them.
Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society…. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines … communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
For young children try as much as possible to shield them from what’s going on. If a child comes home and says they heard there was a shooting in California and then asks what happened, which is quite an open-ended question. Keep it basic, and say something along the lines of: “There were some bad people that hurt other people, but here we do our best to keep you safe, and your school does its best to keep you safe.”
Older children have more access to information, whether it’s at school, online, on social media or on TV. So parents should be wary that in some way, an older child could get incomplete, erroneous or inflammatory information.
Prepare your children much like schools do with fire drills, but avoid promising that a similar event could never happen to them. Instead, assure them that they are safe and then ask direct questions to open up a dialogue on the topic so your child feels more open to ask questions.