Guest Bloggers Amy Burzinski and Stan Davis have some words of wisdom for us:
Last week the unthinkable happened again…yet another school shooting. No matter how many times we see and hear that such a murderous rampage could happen to our nation’s kids, the concept remains unfathomable to us.
How do we begin to explain such horrific events to our children when we as adults cannot fully comprehend them? Perhaps by beginning with the idea that there is no explanation that could ever fully allow any of us to understand what happened. What then can we offer to our children?
Talking to Kids About School Shootings
Whenever possible, children do not need to know about adult problems. We generously protect them from knowing about our health scares, our financial problems, our normal relationship stresses. There will be time for them to know about all the problems adults face when they grow up. We may be driven to learn all the details about tragic events, yet children are often not ready to hear about these things.
One parent, writing about the Sandy Hook shootings, said that she asked herself whether she wanted to tell her children about the Newtown tragedy for their sake or for her own sake. She decided that it was best for them not to know. Each parent or guardian will, of course, make this kind of decision in their own way. It is clear that young children can be harmed by repeated exposure to news accounts, as they may believe that each news report means that another group of children has been killed. I
If our children do find out about these events, we should be led by their questioning to learn what they want to know. They may want just a little information, and may then wish to return to the everyday concerns of
When dealing with tragic events we have found the following to serve as a guide in working with adults, youth and young children. First, give some facts. Without going into graphic detail we can let children know as many facts as they need about what happened. Let children know that adults in their lives do everything they can to keep
them safe and help them reflect on the safety steps we take to protect them.
Mr. Rogers famously stated:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.
You will always find people who are helping.
To this day, especially in times of disaster. I remember my mothers’ words and I am always comforted
by realizing that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in this world.
Nurture And Support
A normal reaction may include feeling anxious and fearful that such an event could happen in their own community, in their own school. Reassure children of what is being done to keep them safe both at home and at school. Normal reactions may also include difficulty sleeping, change in appetite and/or regression to earlier behaviors such as bedwetting, thumbsucking, speaking or acting younger than their actual age.
Some children can feel more attached to a parent and or objects. These behaviors can allow one to manage the distress. On the other end, some children may have no reaction at all. This too, is normal. No matter what reactions your children have to terrible news, this is a time to hold them more, read more stories, offer comfort foods and routines, and spend more time together.
Those steps benefit us in these tragic times as well as our children.
What Can We Do About School Shootings?
Use discretion in regards to how much children see via media. Post 9/11 we found that many children and youth were further exposed to trauma by repeatedly watching images over and over again, because some believed that they were seeing a series of new events.
Children and youth need to know that we want to hear what they have to say, that we are here to listen and support them. When children and youth do not ask, and when their actions are showing that they are concerned or stressed, it is then important for us as adults to ask them what they are thinking of, feeling, or what they need to know.
One study by the secret service found that in 81% of school shootings at least one peer who was a friend of the perpetrator knew about the shooters plans ahead of time. Seventy-nine percent of youth surveyed were peers that
knew of a school shooting that were not friends with the shooter but knew about him or her and possible plans. Regarding both groups, each indicated that if an adult would ask them if they knew of any plan by another peer to
harm, they would tell the adult.
We as adults need to be proactive in supporting, asking, and listening to our children and youth. We need to encourage them to speak to us if they know or even suspect potentially hurtful acts. We need to abolish the idea
of tattling and being a snitch so they are more likely to talk to us about their concerns.
All children will experience negative events of some type either directly or indirectly so it is important for all to have positive relationships with multiple adults, with peers, to have passionate hobbies and a sense of efficacy, and to be able to express themselves when sad or hurt and to findjoy and meaning in life. The current research on resiliency supports these behaviors.
We all struggle with our feelings about school shootings but we can comfort, support and reassure our children through painful times.
With Dr. Charisse Nixon, Stan is co-leading the Youth Voice Research Project, which has collected information from more than 13,000 young people in the United States about what works and what doesn’t work in bullying prevention. His trainings integrate research, practical experience, specific techniques, and audience participation
Amy Burzinski is a clinical practitioner who has worked with adults, children and youth for over 23 years. Ms. Burzinski provides training to mental health professionals, educators, family and youth on the subject of bullying prevention, trauma and resilience. To learn more about Amy and her work you can check her website,