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We’re all dreading it. When our kids finally grasp what has been horrifying parents, educators and the community at-large for the last few years.
I was seeing a sweet girl last month who struggles with anxiety. When we were digging into the content of her fears, she said, “I’m afraid of someone coming into the school to hurt all the kids.” My heart sank. My stomach tightened up. Because I’m scared that will happen to her too. I’m scared that will happen to my own kids.
But when I’m the therapist, it’s not about me. When I parent my kids, it’s not about me. When you parent your kids, it’s not about you, either. I can process my worries with my sister, my best friend, my husband, or even (*gasp*) my own therapist!
Here’s what I know in those moments. This little darling child, full of potential and trust and questions, needs to hear from her trusted adults that she is safe. She is SAFE. Children are built to take cues from the adults around them. Emotional cues, stress cues… generally “how should I respond to the world” cues.
In those moments, I have to put my fears aside, take a deep breath, and give her some hope. Give her confidence in the adults around her.
My friends, I know this is much easier said than done. My advice to you is as follows:
Make a plan for this conversation. You don’t have to bring it up, but you certainly can. But you don’t want to be caught off-guard.
Validate their fears. This one is my favorite because it’s pretty simple. This sounds like “sure, it makes sense that it worries you.” or “that would be scary, wouldn’t it.”
Communicate that you trust the people whose job it is to protect your children. This usually sounds something like “every adult in your entire school building as a job to protect you. Every single one.”
Don’t tell them “that will never happen at your school.” Because (and this hurts my heart to write), it might. But you can do this: Tell them all about the safety measures being taken at school, and tell them that if something bad does happen someday, there will be LOTS of grown-ups doing everything they can to make it safe again. Tell them that if you stay calm, and you follow directions, and that’s how you can stay safe when something bad happens.
Ask them what would make them feel safer. This works well with kids around 8 and older. Suggest that you talk to the principal together, about how the school plans to be safe.
Remind them that they have lots of people who love them and take care of them. Remind them that it’s not their job to worry about someone coming into the school to hurt them. That’s their teacher’s job, their principal’s job, and mom or dad’s job.
Don’t forget to take your own deep breath. If it does come up before you’ve decided what you’ll say, it’s okay to say, “you know what, let me think about that and we can talk about it after dinner.” Kids understand that sometimes they have to wait for responses, and that’s really okay. The key to this is – if you say you’ll talk about it later, you really need to talk about it later.
Those little pumpkins look to you for security and prompts on how to interpret the world around them. In unsettling times, the best thing we can do is remind them how many people care deeply about them and would do anything to protect them.
Lifeologie Counseling Grand Rapids is located in Ada, MI with close proximity to Forest Hills, MI and Grand Rapids. We offer child therapy and parenting skills training, in addition to providing family counseling and individual counseling sessions.