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Parents, this is how you can talk to your kids about school shootings: 'Acknowledge our fears'

In an era defined by gun violence, parents might be confused about how to discuss school shootings with their children. Experts Dr. Robin Gurwitch and Dr. Janet Taylor offer some advice.

Parents, this is how you can talk to your kids about school shootings: 'Acknowledge our fears'
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At least 19 students and two adults are dead after a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In the wake of this deadly school shooting, parents may be worried about how to discuss the heartbreaking incident with their own children. According to experts, it's essential to create a safe space where both parent and child can speak openly and honestly about their feelings and fears. As students return to in-person school following the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, so does the horrific act of gun violence. Speaking with children can help mitigate and address some of the apprehensions they may have, Good Morning America reports.


"For the majority of students, school is a safe and supporting environment," stated Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University Medical Center. "So when a shooting happens at a school, it undermines our sort of worldview about where I can be that is a safe place." She believes it is "extremely important" for parents and other caregivers to "be willing to bring [the] topic up" when a mass tragedy takes place. She affirmed, "We really want to wrap our arms around them and make them feel safe. But part of being a parent is [the] willingness to discuss difficult topics."


Dr. Gurtwitch is also a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. In collaboration with Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist based in Sarasota, Florida, she broke down how parents can discuss the news with their children and help them feel safe. "To believe that our children don’t know that these events occur is wishful thinking," she said. "We live in an age where we can go online and see a live feed of people leaving the school, of responders, it's updated every few moments." If parents are watching the news with their children, she suggested turning it off and talking about the incident in a calm manner. This will give parents an idea of what they already know, where they are coming from and what misconceptions they may hold.


Furthermore, it is critical to ensure that children know their schools are doing everything they can to guarantee their safety. Dr. Gurtwitch stated, "Let them know that their school has plans in place to do everything to the best of their ability to make them safe." In addition to this, Dr. Taylor urged parents to let their kids know they are safe in their own homes. "It’s really important we remind them how they are safe within our own household, and as importantly, remind them what they need to do when they feel unsafe, where the feeling is, what they can say and who they can come to," she said. "As parents and as adults and as caregivers, we want our children, if they’re feeling unsafe, to come to us and talk to us."


The approach a parent takes will likely differ depending on how old their children are. When it comes to children in preschool, the experts recommended limiting media exposure. Meanwhile, for children in high school and older children in middle school, Dr. Gurtwitch suggested addressing the incident directly, saying that you want to talk to them about the school shooting that happened and asking them what they know about it. Moreover, it is crucial to pay attention to any changes in children's behavior. "If you have younger children and they suddenly get more clingy or want to sleep in bed with you, pay attention to that and cuddle them as they need it," Dr. Taylor explained. "Older kids may become more isolated or feel that they have to solve things by themselves."


Most imperatively, however, the experts said that it is important for parents to be open about their own feelings. "Identify your strengths, and If you need help, don’t be afraid to talk to someone," Dr. Taylor said. "Talk to a psychiatrist. Talk to a social worker. Talk to your pastor. Talk to your friend. Get the help that you need so we can make it through these difficult times." She also recommended being open with children about these apprehensions. She reiterated, "It’s important to understand that we can share how we are feeling with our children and acknowledge our own fears, saying, ‘You know, something really bad happened. I’m feeling this way, how are you feeling?’"


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