As moms, yesterday’s senseless tragedy in Uvalde has left us feeling a range of emotions from heartbreak to anger. Enough is enough, and while our world debates on what to do next, we are home hugging our sweet children a little tighter while trying to make sense of it all.
I had the opportunity to touch base with Serene Counseling and Wellness, a local Pearland therapy facility, for their expert guidance on the best way to talk with our children about the school shooting. Founder, Roxanne Deams, LPC-S and Ali Gonzales, LPC-Associate were so gracious to provide information to help us along. Here’s what they had to say.
How do we talk to our children about what happened in Uvalde? How specific should we be?
This will depend on the age of your child. Older children might feel more comfortable with more specific information, whereas younger children may need broad strokes of information. Ask what they know about it and what questions or feelings they have. It is also worth keeping in mind that each person processes trauma differently so what is traumatic to one may not be as impactful to others.
Some will want to discuss thoroughly, some will retreat and avoid the topic, some will become visibly emotional. The range for processing responses is vast and unique to each individual. Let them know you are there to support them and answer any other questions that they have, asking for clarity and understanding as you go along.
What can we do to help our children feel more secure?
Ask if your child feels safe at school and see if you can decrease any concerns they have. Ask your child how they participate in drills and what those drills feel like for them. Remind them that safety procedures are in place and that it is important to remember all they’ve practiced if a true emergency ever happens.
Discuss how they can stay calm when they are stressed, scared, and overwhelmed – it’s very important to breathe. You can practice some deep breathing exercises with your child that can help with creating a sense of calm in situations that are not calm. If you are aware of the safety protocols, go over them with your child, demonstrating how they can move.
What can we say or do to help our children if they become afraid to go to school?
Start by validating their feelings, expressing an understanding of how scary it can be. Discuss the specific reasons that they feel unsafe, helping them to identify them as needed. This dialogue can open opportunities for advocacy within the schools on behalf of the parents and children. Discuss what would help them feel safe regarding school, encouraging them to discuss and explore what those things may look like.
Share with your child that it is okay to feel uneasy or anxious when these things happen and that it is also okay to talk about those things. Ask them if they feel speaking with a counselor/therapist would be helpful during this time. Depending on the age and developmental level of your child, it may be helpful to look at statistics and how rare it is for this to happen. Focus on the positives that happened while only noting the facts, no opinions. Remembering that it is okay to say that you don’t know something as even mom’s don’t have all of the answers as much as we would like to.
Can you offer some language examples to help us through our conversations?
Teen example: What have you heard about the tragedy in Uvalde on Tuesday? What questions or feelings do you have about it? If you see or hear something concerning about your school, do you know who to talk to about that? Its important to take all threats seriously and let someone know if you hear or see something out of the norm.
Child example: A bad thing happened at a school here in Texas. Some children and their teachers were very badly hurt and some of them did not live. How does that make you feel? What kind of drills do you practice at school? How do you feel when you practice those drills at school?
What are some ways we can ease our anxiety as parents?
Take in news and social media in smaller doses. Allow yourself space to feel whatever comes up from this tragedy as all feelings are valid. Take time to take care of yourself. Incorporate positive activities during your day. If you are concerned with the school’s protocol, ask to review what they currently have in place and make recommendations to the school board if you feel additions may be beneficial.
Look at what the school currently has in place regarding access to the school, locked doors, security presence, how often drills are practiced, what does the practice look like, what happens if a class is in specials, what if a child is in the bathroom, what happens when there are class transitions. There’s a lot of movement throughout the day so knowing how your children will be protected can be helpful.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It is important to acknowledge our children’s mental health has taken a decline over the last few years. It’s okay to acknowledge that your child may be struggling and work with them to get help. Have regular, open dialogue with your child of any age regarding their feelings, school, social media or any other topics they or you feel are important.
Establish who is safe to talk to if they feel uncomfortable or notice something that isn’t right in a variety of settings. Validation is key. In moments like this, there is an array of emotions that can be experienced: anger, sadness, confusion, anxiety, and fear. These emotions look different on everyone. Younger kids may not understand or know how to verbalize the emotions that they are feeling. It’s always a good idea to define emotions and talk with your children about how they experience them.
Other Notable Resources
How to Talk to Kids About the Uvalde, Texas School Shooting – The Local Moms Network
Violence in Communities – Sesame Street