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Talking To Your Kids In the Wake of School Tragedy

I write this blog as a therapist. A parenting specialist. A mom of elementary-aged school kids. I write this blog following the Uvalde shooting in Texas.

I write this blog after turning off the news before my kids come in. Turning off my podcasts before the kids get up… so they don’t hear it before school starts this morning.

I write this with a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, tears in my eyes I won’t allow to fall. If I let one go… there would be too many.

As a mom, I’m dreading the moment that my kids finally grasp what has been horrifying parents, educators and the community at-large for the last several years. When I imagine the moment my kids come to me, asking why someone comes to a school to shoot children… I imagine myself freezing up. Fumbling. Showing my kids my own anxiety.

However, when I put on my therapist hat, things become a little clearer.

When I’m the therapist, it’s not about me. It’s about helping kids feel safe and strong, wherever they are.

And really, when I coach parents, the fundamental rule is this: parenting is not about you, either. You can process your worries with your brother, your best friend, your spouse, or even your own therapist. Try to meet your emotional needs away from your children.

Your little darling children, when they ask “why does someone want to hurt children?” – they need to hear from trusted adults that they are safe. They are SAFE.  Children are built to take cues from the adults around them. Emotional cues, stress cues… “how should I respond to the world” cues.

In these moments, it is critical that you put your fears aside, take a deep breath, and give them some hope. Give them confidence in the adults around them.

My friends, I know this is much easier said than done. My advice to you is this:

  1. Make a plan for this conversation. You don’t have to bring it up, but you certainly can. You don’t want to be caught off-guard.
  2. 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.”
  3. Communicate that you trust the people whose job it is to protect your children. This could sound something like “every adult in your entire school building has a job to protect you. Every single one.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Want some more help working through this conversation? Contact us for a consultation.

About The Author:

Katie Zuverink works with Lifeologie Counseling in Dallas

Katie Zuverink, LPC-S specializes in working with parents and children going through difficult life events and transitions. She has spent the last 10 years working with parents in knowing how to best support their children in times of uncertainty.