When you see the headlines that there have been hundreds of mass shootings so far this year, it’s hard not to panic. You get nervous about going to work, sending your kids to school, going to the mall or the playground, living your lives.
While it’s easy to get sucked into living in fear, we need to remember that mass shooting events are still extraordinarily rare, says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, Parent Coach & Co-Founder of ImpactADHD®.
“Your kid is more likely to die in car accident, experience a child in your community commit suicide or have a drug addiction than experience a mass shooting,” Taylor-Klaus says.
More: A mom’s plea to tell our kids the truth about mass shootings
Of course, questions about mass shootings can come up even when they aren’t dominating the headlines, and it’s important to not wait until the next shooting to have a discussion.
How you talk with your children about mass shooting incidents will have a significant impact on them. You don’t want to teach them they are living in a world of hyper-vigilance and fear, Taylor-Klaus says. “We can’t do anything about the crazy that is out there in the world,” she says, “but we can live a positive life.”
Of course, parents might be thinking about purchasing bulletproof backpacks like the ones offered by Shield Pack or Bullet Blocker (Bullet Blocker also sells bulletproof kid’s jackets and tablet cases). There are also plenty of websites, like Off the Grid Survival, where you can learn ways to teach your child how to protect themselves during a school shooting.
But many experts advise against practicing active shooter safety drills with your children.
“Your kids are smart enough to know to be afraid of someone pointing a gun at them,” Taylor-Klaus explains. “You don’t need to tell them to be afraid of that.” You need to remind them that while these instances seem common, they are actually quite rare, she says, otherwise they will live their lives in constant fear.
That said, don’t ignore mass shootings.
“We need to have the conversation and give them an opportunity to ask questions,” says Taylor-Klaus. “We need to debunk any myths they may have created for themselves. You want to make sure they know this is rare.”
Answer their questions as practically as possible, Taylor-Klaus says, and try not to put too much fear around it. The key is to teach your child to be resilient. “As parents, we have to believe in our kid’s ability to handle whatever happens instead of teaching them to live in fear of it.”
Give your children a sense of what they can control in their lives. For instance, older children can make a conscious decision to stay safe from drugs and self-harm. Younger children can focus on eating healthy and getting enough sleep.
You might still need to have a discussion with your children about mass shooting incidents, especially since many schools, including elementary and preschools, routinely have lockdown drills where students practice hiding silently.
More: Oregon shooting leaves 10 dead and far too many numb
Here are specific suggestions from Taylor-Klaus for talking with your child:
10 and under
- Refrain from constantly discussing traumatic events in front of young children.
- Ask them about their understanding of the event. Be careful that you don’t provide more information than they need to know.
- Be very general and matter-of-fact in your discussion.
11 and older
- Ask your child what they already know and if they have any questions or concerns.
- If you think your child can handle it, consider discussing what they might do in a similar situation.
More: The Mamafesto: When kids ask about mass shootings, what can a mom say?
In the days and weeks after a shooting, watch your child’s behavior, Taylor-Klaus recommends. If they’re afraid to go to school, if they are talking about the shootings excessively and asking a lot of questions, but don’t seem to be settled by the answers, or if they have an increased need for control or voice new fears, you might want to consider consulting a counselor.
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