Advice for Parents, Teachers: Helping Kids Cope With Traumatic Events
In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, I found myself trying to figure out how to explain the event to my son. He had caught my husband and me talking about it - worrying about it - and wanted to understand. I didn't know how to speak to him about it, but I realized I would eventually have to. After all, school shootings had become a prevalent issue across the country; there was no way to keep them from him forever.
Since the beginning of 2022, the United States has faced 27 school shootings, according to NPR. In 2021, the U.S. faced 34 school shootings. The alarming statistics have led many parents, including myself, to wonder: how do I talk to my kids about school shootings and other traumatic events?
I reached out to Laramie, Wyoming's Cathedral Home for assistance. Their mental health clinicians provided advice on handling traumatic events with children - and how adults can cope with their stress and emotional turmoil from such circumstances. Here's what they had to say:
Taking Care of Yourself First
Adults approaching traumatic topics should take care to process their own emotions. Our children often feed off our own emotions, so it's best to come to the discussion calmly and collected.
Open With Questions
Chances are, your children have heard something about the traumatic events somewhere. Between Facebook, the media, and school, it's hard to keep them from such topics. Allow them time to ask questions they may have about the event before jumping into an explanation.
For Children Ages 5-9
Recognize that even young children are aware of traumatic events. It's not uncommon for kids to undergo active shooter drills in preschool - they understand the danger to some degree. Cathedral Home's counselors recommend keeping younger children away from the media and limiting their exposure to adult conversations about the event. Instead, let them ask questions to you or a counselor. Simply being there for them will help assure your child that the adults in their life are working to protect them.
For Children Ages 10-12
Older children are more aware of traumatic events than parents and teachers think. The best thing you can do for them at this age is to allow them to express their concerns, fears, and questions to you. Cathedral Home's experts noted that children might ask about their safety at school. Parents and teachers can respond by offering safety protocols and action plans to follow during dangerous situations. Teachers and counselors are other great resources for private discussions with students about their fears.
For Children Ages 13 and Up
This age group has easier access to media and information, so it's best to address their concerns quickly. Cathedral Home's counselors recommend offering a space for teens to express their concerns, anger, fear, and other emotions while parents and school counselors validate their concerns. Additionally, you can remind youths of safety measures and protocols to keep them safe during dangerous situations.
Though speaking about traumatic events like the Uvalde, Texas shooting with children is difficult, it's critical to assure your family or students of their safety and support network. Don't be afraid to reach out to a school counselor for assistance in addressing the topic with your kids; they are there to help. And remember to process your own emotions and fears that come from traumatic events - taking care of yourself will help you help your children better during these stressful times.
More On Cathedral Home
- To download Cathedral Home's guidance for helping children through traumatic events, click here.
- For more information about Cathedral Home's mental health services and other programs, click here.