How Do We Talk About School Shootings to Gifted Kids?
We must manage fear for sensitive and bright children
Posted Mar 13, 2018
A wonderful parent of gifted/2e (twice-exceptional) children emailed me this morning to ask if I had written anything on school shootings: did I have advice for parents of gifted/2e kids? Did I have words of wisdom for the gifted/2e kids themselves? I responded that I had written about fear related to deadly viruses, the flu, terrorism, and our political situation, but nothing on shootings. I then said that I wasn’t sure what to write and to offer. I didn’t like that answer but it was the truth as I have been reeling from all the shootings myself with the most recent one taking the life of psychologists and a social worker.
I went for a run and pondered this. What can we tell gifted/2e children? What am I telling my children? What should I recommend? As a recovering perfectionist who happens to be a psychologist who is supposed to have answers, I often feel tremendous pressure to give the “right” answer. The older and more experienced in life I get, the more I realize that not only do I not have to have the right answer, but sometimes there aren’t “right” answers and that is okay. As I worked this out during my run I felt a quiet sense of relief that allowed me to get in touch with my thinking. This led me to realize (because I was in my thinking brain rather than my emotional, anxious brain) that these latest scary shootings are yet another example of unpredictable situations like deadly viruses, terrorism, and natural disasters. They are all scary and powerful and can impact our lives in permanent ways.
So what do we do about it and what do we tell our bright and sensitive children?
- We must remember to be honest and authentic. Our kids can generally sniff out our attempts to shield them from information and the related white lies a mile away. We need them to keep trusting us so we need to be honest.
- We need to remember to focus on their developmental and maturity level and only give them as much information as they need to know – often determined by combination of what they want and what you think is appropriate.
- We need to acknowledge that these shootings are scary and it is normal to feel scared.
- We need to talk about the probability of a tragedy like this happening at their school. It is VERY low like being struck by lightening or dying in a plane crash (parents don’t use the plane crash example if that is one of your child's fears), or winning the lottery -- and probably less likely than any of these things.
- We need to talk about living in the present and controlling what we can, while trying to let go of what we cannot control.
- Finally, we need to manage our own fears so they don’t get absorbed by our sensitive and intuitive kids. They also look to us to determine how much to worry.
In the end, all we can do is our best to comfort our children during these often scary and unpredictable times. Keep your news to a minimum and focus on your daily life. Stay focused on the present and the moments and keep sending out good thoughts to our community and fellow humans to show increased compassion and love for one another.