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February 2019

How to Talk with Your Child About School Shootings

As a parent, you want your child to feel that the world is a safe place. Unfortunately, tragedies such as school shootings happen from time to time. You may feel confused about how to address these topics with your child. In general, the best approach is to be straightforward and reassuring. 

Dad lying on his side, talking with young daughter

Begin the conversation

Start by asking your child what he or she has heard. This will give you a sense of what information your child already knows. Next, ask what questions he or she has. Let your child’s questions be your guide for how much information to share. 

Provide plenty of reassurance. Tell your child about specific measures that keep him or her safe at home and at school, such as exterior doors that are locked during the school day or an alarm system that’s set at home at night. Validate your child’s feelings and let him or her know that it’s OK to feel sad. Remind your child that the risk of a similar event happening where you live is very, very small and that adults are doing everything they can to keep kids safe. 

How to handle the news

It’s a good idea to limit your child’s exposure to news coverage. Try not to have the news on all the time, especially if you have young children at home. Young kids may think that the events are happening again and again when they see them replaying on TV. 

Most children are resilient and will bounce back from the weight of the news pretty quickly. Watch for signs that your child may be experiencing anxiety or having trouble coping, such as:

  • Nightmares

  • Refusing to go to school

  • Excessive worry

  • Headaches or stomachaches

  • Changes in behavior 

If you’re concerned about your child, talk with your pediatrician or a mental health provider. Let your child know that he or she can talk to you anytime.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gonnella, Joseph, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/21/2019
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