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talking to kids about school shootings

Early this morning, our Nashville community suffered in unison. The devastating shooting at
Covenant School left many teachers, school staff, parents, and children in fear along with a
myriad of other emotions. While we mourn the precious souls that have passed, we urge
parents to look within their homes. It may be first instinct to try and avoid talking about this
event with children, however, avoidance often leads to heightened anxiety and fear.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when talking about school shootings with children:

Do not be afraid to talk about it.
They will probably hear about it from friends, the internet, or at their school. It is better
that you bring up the conversation first so that they know they can come ask/talk to you
about it. Approach your kids when you have felt your own emotions about the evets. It
is important that you remain calm while talking to them. You can initiate the
conversation by saying “Hey {insert child’s name}, have you heard about what happened

Let them know it is normal to be scared!
When you normalize the emotions that you feel it will help them place words to the
emotions that they may be feeling. You can validate these emotions by saying “It’s
completely ok and normal if you are feeling {insert feelings}.”

Be clear in your language and give as much information as is appropriate for their age.
This is one conversation that you do not want to be fuzzy or lighthearted about. When
you are straight forward and clear, children will be confident in their understanding, and
it will elicit questions from them.

Avoid promises that are out of your control.
This one is a hard pill to swallow. We all want and desire to promise our children that
they will never get hurt. However, as parents it is important to remember that we can
only promise to protect them when it comes to safety. This means that promising that
their school will never have a shooting is out of the question. It is, unfortunately, out of
our control. Instead, let them know that school shootings are rare and that they have practice drills.
This is a good time to check in on if your child is aware of the procedure. If not, remind
them that teachers and school staff are trained in the protocol.

Ask if they have any questions.

If you are at a loss of what to say, ask them what their questions are. Take time to really
understand their concerns and do your best to answer. If you are unsure of the answer,
let them know you will do some research and get back to them with the answer. If they
don’t have any questions, let them know they can come talk to you about it at any time.

Keep an eye out for continued fear, anxiety, or anger.
It is normal for them to experience fear, anxiety, and anger following this news. If you
feel like these emotions are prolonged, see professional help. Please reach out to us
at The Refuge Center.

While our community suffered this morning, we will heal over the next couple of weeks and
months. Here are some more resources to help you have the necessary conversations with your

Article contributions by Nancy Manan, M.MFT.