It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Breaking news reveals that extremists – home-grown or international – have struck with violent precision.
It’s happened yet again – this time twice within a single weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
While there have sadly been many active-shooter events in the intervening years since 9/11, the news of these early August attacks brought me back in an instant to the day when the ongoing national nightmare was spawned.
By the time I picked up my then-seven-year-old son from school on September 11, 2001 he knew that planes had destroyed the Twin Towers. He had been worried about Grandma and Grandpa, who lived in New York. It astounded me how quickly he made the fearful connection between the attack and his grandparents’ safety…and that he lived with that fear until I arrived to pick him up.
Whether a terrorist strike is on the scale of 9/11, Sandy Hook, or the recent ones in Texas and Ohio, your children may be afraid, perhaps angry and naturally curious about its impact on their lives – especially now that school will soon be back in session.
Here’s one thing you can rely on: Your kids will be exposed to an uncontrollable media assault on multiple platforms, as well as information – and misinformation – from friends and schoolmates.
As concerned and hungry for information as we, ourselves, may be, our job as parents in the face of this type of crisis is threefold:
· Control your kids’ environment
· Share only age-appropriate information
· Don’t answer questions they haven’t asked
Control your kids’ environment.
It’s impossible to control media entirely, but parents need to own the conversation. That starts with being sensitive to what and how much information about active shooter and other violent events your kids are exposed to.
As much as you can, shield your children – especially more vulnerable school-agers – from the media onslaught. Play music rather than news on the car radio. If the TV is on at home, play or stream movies or children’s programs to avoid “breaking news” updates.
Think beyond media. Remember… kids have elephant ears. Your child may look engrossed in a coloring book or a video game while you and your friend talk about the news, but their attraction to and curiosity about adult conversation will heighten their interest in what you’re saying.
Finally, gather as much info as you can from school administrators and teachers about what, if anything, they’ve officially communicated to the children in their charge. If there were an attack somewhere in the world – but it’s not getting much media coverage – I wouldn’t bring it up unless I know it was discussed at school.
One additional note on environments: Given the cultural acceptance of guns in the home for many people, it is completely appropriate to ask whether there are guns in the home prior to a playdate or sleepover. I coach clients to inquire about that simply so they can make an informed decision about their kids’ safety. Many gun owners understand the responsibility well and have gun safes and other preventative measures in place; but, it is your responsibility to ask.
Share only age-appropriate information.
Between lock-down and active-shooter drills at school – not to mention parental lectures about “stranger danger” and the sanctity of their bodies – modern kids are well aware of the potential for both violence and personal harm. Yet if an actual event occurs either at school, in the U.S. or globally, fear will likely overcome them… again, especially school-age children.
Reassurance is a parent’s #1 responsibility. But don’t be dishonest. If the recent attack was at a school like theirs, kids will likely ask “Am I safe at school?” You certainly cannot say, “I promise nothing will ever happen at school.” But you can reassure them that you have full confidence that Principal Jones, Safety Officer Sam and their teachers are doing everything possible to protect them.
As someone who is herself quite sensitive to visual imagery, it behooves us as parents to be exceptionally mindful about what our kids see – not only what they hear. They can’t ever unsee images of mangled and bloodied bodies, so especially guard against their exposure to graphic visuals.
Teens, of course, are capable of a much more in-depth conversation. With their near-constant presence on social media, teens likely will know many of the details of the attack and its consequences. They may even have opinions they want to share with you. Invite those conversations. Just make sure they’re not within earshot of younger siblings. For your part, be honest with your teen, but remain measured and mindful.
Don’t answer questions they haven’t asked.
Parents often presume kids know more than they do. We also tend to invest more meaning in what they say than what is they actually know or feel.
So check yourself. When your kids ask questions, reflect their question back to them so you’re absolutely confident you know what they’re asking. Find out what they know – and how they know it.
It’s possible they’ve only heard bits and pieces from schoolmates. Let the facts guide your decision-making about what – and what not – to say.
Above all, find out what their precise concerns are and address them rather than go over the details about the actual event. For school-aged kids in particular, too much information is easily overwhelming, scary and hard to process.
As the intensity of the coverage dies down, job #2 for parents is to stay vigilant about any lingering fears and concerns your kids may have. Are they clinging to you more than usual? Afraid to go to school or sleepovers? Wetting their bed? Watch for and attend to these signs of anxiety with reassurance and, if warranted, professional support.
While we cannot guarantee our kids will never be exposed to or involved in such attacks, as parents we have a critical role to play in helping them process violence. If you have any specific questions you’d like me to address, please email me at email@example.com