In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Florida, many parents are wondering how to explain the tragic event to their children. Talking to kids about school shootings can be hard, but it’s important to be open to discussion – and even to starting a conversation – about tragic events. A tragedy does not have to be a trauma if it’s buffered by good, strong and caring relationships.

Have an age-appropriate conversation

Preschool age: Because you have a high level of control over what your preschool child sees and hears, you don’t need to bring up the incident unless your child hears about it first. In that case, make sure he or she knows that you are there to answer any questions.

Elementary school age: This is an age when you should preemptively tell your child about the tragedy and share basic details. It’s also important to leave the door open for them to ask more questions.

Middle and high school age: At this age, you should have a more detailed conversation. Start by asking questions like, “Have you heard about this?” and “What do you think about this?” to find out what they know and what may be bothering them.

Exposure to social media

Your child may have also seen videos of the chaos during and after the shooting taken by students and onlookers and shared on social media. Let your kids know that you are there to answer any questions they may have.

You should also check in with them at the end of the day to see what their friends were talking about at school and what they saw on social media so you have an idea of where they’re starting from and how to continue the conversation. Seeing frightening images repeatedly can be traumatic for children, so talking about the images and limiting exposure to them is important.

In the end, it’s better to be upfront about these kinds of things, rather than trying to hide them. To reassure them, talk about safety issues and what you do to keep your family safe and what their school does to keep them.

It may also be helpful to find ways that you and your children can help those affected by the shooting. Little children can draw pictures and older ones can write letters.

And finally, if you notice that your child is overly worried or having trouble focusing at school or at home, don’t delay in reaching out for help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lee Beers Lee Beers, MD, is a general pediatrician at Children’s National and the Medical Director for Municipal and Regional Affairs at the Child Health Advocacy Institute.

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