June 5, 2023

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How to Talk to Children About School Shootings

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For children in this age group, start by asking what, if anything, they know about the event. Depending on when you speak with them, they may have already learned about the shooting from a classmate or some other source.

“You’re listening to how much they know,” Dr. Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, said. “And then you’re telling them the facts of the case in a very calm, informational way. You are not sharing unnecessary details.”

Make sure to ask what questions they have, if any. If they have none, that is OK. In fact, Dr. Schonfeld said, “the most common reaction is no reaction.” Simply reassure your child that you are available if and when there are questions down the road.

But if children have questions, be careful not to provide too much detail at once.

“If they ask rapid questions, you slow it down. Because oftentimes kids don’t want as much information as they’re asking for, so you give them small pieces,” Dr. Koplewicz said, adding that if you don’t know an answer or simply want more time to think about it, say that.

Keep in mind that children of all ages, but perhaps particularly elementary-school age, tend to focus inward. So they may immediately jump to how the news applies to themselves.

“Be reassuring and say: ‘Let’s think about what’s going on in your school. What are the safety measures and precautions?’” Dr. Koplewicz said. “And the other piece of information that’s reassuring is how rare these events are. They’re horrific, but they’re still rare.”

If you have an adolescent, it is safe to assume your child has already heard the news or will soon, regardless of whether you bring it up. So again, start with questions about what your child knows and how they feel. Your primary goal is to be open to what your child says, not to try to fix anything.

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