We know that school shootings and other mass tragedies affect many more people than those who are directly impacted. When a mass tragedy happens, you maybe asking, what should I tell my kids? How do I reassure them of their own safety?
Here are some things for adults to keep in mind when talking with children following tragic events.
Don’t project your fears onto your children. They take their cues from the adults around them.
You can’t hear the news about a mass tragedy without thinking about how you’d feel if it happened to your family, friends, or hometown. Identifying with the senselessness and randomness makes us all feel more vulnerable. But we should remember that children don’t always see things the same way that adults do, and it won’t be helpful to them for us to fall apart. They need to see that we care, that we feel terrible about this tragedy, and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe.
It’s okay to show emotion. But we don’t want to overwhelm them, or put them in the position of having to "parent," or take care of, the adults around them. Make sure you also model taking care of yourself.
Try to limit access to the recurring news and exposure to the tragedy over and over.
Over-exposure to the graphic and emotional news can be overwhelming for children. Too much exposure can fuel their fear, so don’t let them sit and watch the news over and over. Better yet, set the example of not doing so yourself as well.
Understand that you can’t completely shield them from what happened.
It's impossible to hide these events from children, as much as we wish we could. That said, you don’t need to give them more information than they can handle, or more than they’re asking for. A simple, “Did they talk about what happened in _____ today at school?” would be a good starter. Kids need to know that you’re not trying to hide the truth from them, that you’re open to talking about it, but that you’re also not forcing them to do so.
Model truth-telling and build trust with your children by letting them hear things, even hard things, from you directly.
As difficult as it can be, children want, need, and deserve the truth. Being able to talk openly and honestly with your children about tragic events and other losses, creates a foundation of trust, enabling them to come to you in the future with their questions, fears, and concerns.
Visit Dougy Center's website here for additional resources on supporting children after a mass tragedy.