After another school shooting in the United States, this time in Nashville, parents must again find a way to speak to their kids about it.
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People everywhere are reeling from the news of yet another school shooting — this time in Nashville, Tennessee, at a private Christian elementary school called the Covenant School. According to Reuters, a 28 year old woman with several guns walked into the school and killed three children and three adults before police shot and killed her.
Sissy Goff, a Christian family therapist in Nashville, who has friends at the school, immediately jumped on Instagram to offer her expert advice to parents on how to speak to their children about this terrible event and any others like it. Here are some of the ways parents can approach the topic with their kids, based on her recommendations:
Stay calm and centered
Kids need to feel that their parents are a safe and steady place. Whatever you need to do to center yourself before speaking to your children, do that. It doesn’t mean you can’t have tears or express any anger or emotion, but be calm before talking about this.
Be their source
Goff says it is important to be informed and up-to-date with the facts so that your child can depend on you as a trustworthy source of information. Stick to facts and get your news from reliable sources.
Let your kids lead the conversation
Children typically ask for the information they are ready for. You can bring up the shooting: “There has been another school shooting in our community/state/country …” and you can ask questions: “Have you heard about the school shooting in Nashville today?” But let your child lead the conversation. It doesn’t matter if the conversation ends up being 30 seconds or 30 minutes — go at the pace and lead of your child.
Give them the space to feel
Children may have a range of emotions about school shootings. Some may feel sad, angry, confused, anxious, or insecure. Whatever their feelings, let them feel and express themselves. It’s okay to feel your own feelings, too, but be careful not to process your own feelings with your child. Save for that for other adults.
Answer questions honesty and age-appropriately
Always be honest. Your child needs to feel like he for she can trust you and come to you. Be aware of your child’s age and sensitivites.
Talk about what your child can control
Shocking and tragic events like school shootings give children (and adults!) a strong sense of insecurity. Give them more leeway than you might otherwise so they can feel more secure and resourceful.
Help them identify the helpers
Goff suggests the same advice Fred Rogers had for children when we see hard things in the news: “Look for the helpers.” Ask your child: Who are the helpers? How can we pray for them? What can we do for them? If we are not close by, can we send letters of support? Can we send financial support?
Pray with your child
Don’t give platitudes to children, but share what we know to be true as Christians: God is with the people there, that He was there even as it was happening, that He loves us. Pray for the victims together, and since Jesus asks us to love our enemies, pray for the soul of the perpetrator.
Kids move in and out of grief and feelings. So check in with them regularly. Seek a therapist if your child is expressing ongoing signs of anxiety or depression.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t need to be perfect in how you talk about it. Be sincere and be loving. Help your child feel safe. And even if you feel helpless about how to be part of the solution to the plague of school shootings, choose to speak words of hope to your children. We need to always hold hope for them.