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Zepf Center News

Talking To Your Children About School Shootings

Published Wednesday, June 6, 2018
by Katharine E. Beach MSN, APRN, NP-C

I feel that punch in my stomach every time a breaking news story flashes on my phone, “School shooting in Florida/California/Texas”, and the list goes on and on. So far in 2018, there have been 22 school shootings.  

I don’t understand how people can hurt others like this, and I have worked in mental health for the past ten years. We cannot explain the actions of others, but we all feel the consequences and we are left with the aftermath of picking up the pieces.How can we comfort our children when our minds are racing and our hearts are broken? Just try. There are no magic words, no therapeutic tricks that can comfort broken hearts or erase terrible trauma. We provide a soft space for our children to land when they are scared, we answer questions to the best of our ability and just try our best.

There are some things that can help guide your conversations that have helped me in speaking to my patients, my family and friends and my very young children who have overheard something that they aren’t capable of understanding.

First, know your audience.

No one knows your child better than you and what they can handle and how much information is too much. Err on the side of caution.

For children in elementary school, less information is best. General statements, “Something bad happened today and some people got hurt. You may hear others talking about this and I want you to talk to me if you have an questions or feel bad about what you heard.” It is better if your children hear bad news from you first.

Junior High and High School students are able to understand more, question more and identify and discuss their feelings. Open and honest conversations are encouraged, processing thoughts and fears, but not oversaturating our children with the news and social media sites. Older and more mature children may benefit by action, turning a negative into a positive by volunteering, donating blood, money or resources.Children too young for school, who are not directly affected by school violence, cannot comprehend these tragic events, and are left feeling confused and scared. It is suggested to shield them from these news stories.

Also know, that while you are the most important person to help them heal, they may need more. Be vigilant on how they are feeling, and please seek additional services. Therapists and medical professionals are specifically trained to help process these events.

Second, promote the positive.

While the world seems sad, scary and always changing, go out of your way to show your children that there is absolutely more good than bad. Discuss the uplifting new stories locally and nationally. Find examples of kids doing great things, discuss ‘funny but true’ news stories and new successes scientific discoveries. Laugh with your children and talk about dreams and goals, ideas and memories.

Drowning out the sad and scary images of the world with laughter and new ideas, can help kids sleep better at night and get moving in the morning.

Third, take care of yourself. 

Have you ever heard someone say “put on your own oxygen mask first”? The idea is that you cannot be of any help to someone, if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Process how you’re feeling about what is happening around you, talk with others and strengthen your own support system. If your children see you struggling, they will struggle. Be a good example, if you need to talk to someone, reach out. Help is out there. 


“Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” – Fred Rodgers, on what his mother would tell him after seeing something frightening on the news.




Integrated care is the coordination of general and behavioral health care needs in an effort to treat not just the body but the mind.


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