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Making the time to talk to your child about school shootings, trauma, and safety, is important. Don’t let the lack of narrative in national headlines allow you to avoid the conversation. Creating a safe space for you and your family to exchange emotions, fears, opinions, and ideas, is essential for processing the trauma of a school shooting. Research has found that people can develop symptoms of trauma and PTSD just from watching the news or being on social media where they are confronted with ongoing images and details of a traumatizing tragedy. Even if you don’t believe your family is being affected by the news, talking about a school shooting is critical, particularly for school-aged children.

Try the later evening hours

Get your family together after everyone has had a chance to unwind from their day. After dinner is a time when the family is more relaxed, well fed, and ready to focus on one activity. First thing after school can result in anxiety and tension. Right before bedtime might present too much of an overload for their brain which is trying to ease into sleep. Let the family know that after meal time you’ll be having a family meeting to discuss current events. Keep dinner table talk normal, positive, and lively, before having the serious talk.

Open the floor for everyone’s experience

Give your children the opportunity to talk about what they know, what they think they know, and what they aren’t sure of when it comes to the details of a school shooting. However, inhibit your family from going over the event in great details. Don’t allow older siblings to pull up videos, stories, or any media about the event. Allow children to ask any questions they have, especially ones about fear. Ask them about what training or drills they do at school, if those drills scare them, and how they feel about their knowledge of a safety plan. Listen to what your children have to say. Hold back from telling them if you think what they feel is right or wrong. It is critical to validate your child’s feelings and encourage them to be open.

Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues from your children

When asking your children if they’ve been having a hard time processing information from the events, pay attention to what they tell you and compare it to what you’ve noticed. If your child has had difficulty sleeping, focusing at school, or getting their chores done at home, but says they are “fine” this is a red flag. Everyone copes differently. Your child might be having a hard time making sense of and expressing their feelings. Talk to your child individually about what they are experiencing. If necessary, set up a therapy appointment to give your child the extra support they need for making sense of a senseless tragedy.

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