What Do We Tell Our Kids?

The number of school shootings we have had this year is sickening. And its only FEBRUARY folks! Our country has again been left shaken and bruised (and for some, cut incredibly deep) after the horrific Valentine’s Day massacre that occurred in Florida on Wednesday. 17 people lost their lives. I am sick to my stomach about it and have a few things to say.

First and foremost, my heart goes out to all of the grieving parents, family members and friends who lost a loved one. I can’t imagine the pain they must be experiencing. Please don’t try and invalidate what I am saying by telling me its not enough. I know its not.

I also wanted to give a nod to those NIU alumni and staff who, 10 years ago on Valentines Day, experienced something similarly as awful and may even have been re-traumatized in hearing this news about Florida. It hits too close to home and we will never forget.

We can go back and forth and argue all day that its a gun issue or a mental health issue. We can blame it on bullying or video games. Regardless of where you lean politically or what you blame, the truth of the matter is: it continues to be a traumatic, heart-breaking, life-threatening issue that is taking children and faculty away from their loved ones.

Since yesterday, I have had numerous parents ask me, “What do we do to keep our children safe?”

With our kids’ direct access to social media (including graphic videos from that day that have gone viral), parents have inquired: “How do we reduce our kids’ fear and anxiety about going to school?”

While I don’t have all the answers for parents or their kids, here are a few suggestions:

1. Create a safe place for them to openly talk to you about how they feel. Turn off your electronic devices. Sit down with them and face them. Push through your own discomfort and fear (you can talk with a trusted adult or professional about yours later) and LISTEN.

2. Reflect back what you hear them say. For example, “It sounds like you are feeling really scared right now.”

3. Validate validate validate. Let them know that how they are feeling matters and makes sense. Don’t tell them not to worry, and don’t assure them it will not happen to them. As much as it hurts, you can’t guarantee that. Instead, tell them you will continue to do everything you can to keep them safe. Because they are your flesh and blood, and you will.

4. Create a safety plan with your child to help them (and you) feel more secure. If you aren’t sure what this looks like, see #6.

5. Take action. Contact your school district administrators about what they are doing to address their students’ fears, concerns and most of all: safety. And whatever way you lean, contact your congressmen.

6. Seek professional guidance to help you and your child to process what has happened, to collaborate on a plan for safety, and to learn ways of coping more effectively with the understandable anxiety and grief that can manifest when tragedies occur.

If you are having a difficult time with this, you are not alone. I care about what happens in the community and most especially, to our children. I am working on ways to better support the community by taking a hard look at the holes that I am seeing in schools and communities when tragedies like this occur and finding ways to help fill those gaps. While I work to make a difference on a larger scale, I am also here as a source of professional support and guidance. Contact me at 630-797-9192 for more information or to schedule an appointment today.

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