School Shooting: 6 Tips to Keep the Conversation Going

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February 21, 2018

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This post is available in: Spanish

Days after the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, many parents are still dealing with difficult conversations with their children. The nonstop news coverage and proliferation of social media content may be contributing to anxiety about safety at their own school.

Graciela Jimenez, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and psychotherapist with Care & Counseling at Baptist Health South Florida, says feelings of shock and sadness can be overwhelming for many. “Your brain gets flooded with different thoughts and worries,” Jimenez says. “Feelings of sadness, fear and anxiety in children and teens can be present for some time,” she added. Jimenez, who specializes in family therapy, offers these tips for starting and keeping the lines of communication open with your children:

Start with yourself – “Take some time to inform yourself and process the facts so you can check your own feelings and thoughts before talking to your child,” Jimenez says. Kids may hear rumors or speculation and you should be well-prepared to address them with truth.

Know your child – Reassure them by letting them know they’re OK, then comfort them in a familiar way. “If your child likes hugs, give them a hug. If they don’t, it is best not to force one on them,” Jimenez adds. Look out for any changes in behavior like changes in their normal personality, diet, mood or sleep patterns that could be cause for concern.

Offer support – Make sure to ask them to share what they’ve seen or read, especially on social media. “It’s normal for them to feel angry, worried or confused, but stress that you are there to answer any questions they may have,” Jimenez says. If kids are hearing rumors and speculation online, sit with them and look it up together to have a frank discussion or find the truth.

Highlight the positive – Try to find the good in the midst of this terrible tragedy. Jimenez says, “although it’s not easy, there are stories of survivors, heroes and activism that can offer hope and optimism.” It’s also important to let children know that schools are taking steps to keep them safe in the form of extra security and even drills.

Stay informed – Keep an open line of communication with your child as the school year progresses. Make sure your child knows that it is OK to talk to you about any concerns they may have about a classmate who could be exhibiting signs of threatening behavior.

Disconnect – Jimenez cites this as a ‘golden rule’ for healthy families, not only during incidents like this, but always. “Take time to disconnect from social media, television and other distractions,” she says. “Talking over dinner, playing a board game or going for a family walk can be a great way to relax and connect with each other.”

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