Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Are Your Kids Worried About School Shootings?

Having discussions with your children may ease their anxiety.

Key points

  • Many children are experiencing significant anxiety and distress about returning to school.
  • Conversations with kids about school shootings can include asking what they understand about the phenomenon and what support they need.
  • The United States has had the most school shootings worldwide since 2009.
Goran Horvat/Pixabay
Source: Goran Horvat/Pixabay

In a recent investigative report, Education Week provides us with some startling facts on school shootings in the United States:

There have been 29 school shootings this year alone that resulted in injuries or deaths. There have been 121 school shootings since 2018. The highest number of school shootings with injuries or deaths, 34, occurred last year, 2021. Per a 2018 CNN investigation, the country with the next highest number of school shootings at that time was Mexico—with just 8.

It is no wonder that our children are experiencing significant anxiety and distress about returning to school. The worry is no longer exclusively focused on more typical areas of friendships, grades, workload, transitions, COVID, college apps, and sports. The flavor of anxiety has heightened to also revolve around death and dying, paranoia about strangers on campus and lack of security, and suspicious alienation of "odd students."

Worse yet, it is not only the students who have been traumatized. Teachers, counselors, and administrators who have actually experienced real threats and lockdowns, with hysterical students and parents, come back to school on edge and with realistic fears of their own. One public school in San Diego had a very real threat last semester; in speaking to the school psychologist, she shared profound anxiety about continuing to work in schools and needing a mental break before returning to work. The impact of school shootings and threats of them is real, profoundly disturbing, and long-lasting for all.

Although some of us may not be in a position to decrease gun violence in the United States, it is imperative that conversations at home and in school with students are proactively and consistently established to ease students' worries. Parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators can take several steps to better learn and understand their students' fears, and how to best support them in these troubled times. Burdened with traumatic world events, such as wars and COVID, it is hard to expect our children to thrive, under the additional threats of school gun violence.

How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

Here are some suggestions for schools and parents to facilitate and engage students in honest and reassuring conversations:

  1. Ask your child/student: What do they know and understand about school shootings?
  2. Ask your child/student what their biggest fear/worry is about a shooting at their school or elsewhere.
  3. Ask your child/student if and how worried they are about campus security.
  4. Ask your child/student how these worries impact their focus, attention, ability to attend and participate in school, performance, friendships, mood, and mental health.
  5. Ask your child/student if they can identify the faculty, administration, and family members they can share their worries or information with.
  6. Ask your child/student if they understand school drills. How do they feel about them?
  7. Ask your child/student how best we can support them. What ideas do they have?
  8. Ask your child/student if they were provided with assemblies, advisories, and/or support groups for their worries, would that be helpful to them? Establish the above in a consistent manner so that students can attend as need be.
  9. Ask parents, teachers, and staff to attend town hall meetings to discuss their concerns and ideas about campus security and protocols and procedures for school shooting threats and incidents.
  10. Bring transparency and support to your child and student, and empower them to share their voices, fears, and needs.

Resources

Sadly, for those who have experienced the trauma and threats of school shootings and loss, here are some resources:

  • Where Did My Friend Go: Helping Children Cope with a Traumatic Death. A picture book to help adults discuss a traumatic death and bereavement with children ages three to eight years old.
  • I'm Not Scared... I'm Prepared! A picture book to assist children 3-7 years old in developing a better understanding of what needs to be done if they ever encounter a "dangerous someone."
  • How to Talk to Kids Your Kids About Gun Violence and School Shootings. A guide for adults to have honest and reassuring conversations with children and adolescents.

References

School Shootings This Year: How Many and Where (2022, January 5). Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-shootings-this-year-how-many-a…

"The US has had 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined." CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/21/us/school-shooting-us-versus-world-trnd/…

advertisement