Tragedy has struck again in the form of a school shooting.
How do we, as parents of bright and quirky kids, make sense of such devastating violence? What do we say to our kids who feel so deeply? How do we handle our own emotions about it? What do we do?
Here are 10 steps to navigate this difficult time:
1. Shield young kids from the news and make your home a safe haven. Shelter young kids from the media you allow into your home and vehicle. Get your news in ways that shelter the kids from worrisome messages about the state of the world. Bright kids can understand things way beyond their years and many being highly sensitive, can feel devastated.
2. If kids know about it, connect and soothe: If your child has learned about the tragic event, start by connecting with a hug or being close. Then ask them what they’re thinking and feeling. Then name it to tame it, by reflecting back what you heard, and naming the feeling, ie “It sounds like you’re really sad and shocked about what happened. I wonder if you’re feeling scared.” This simple exercise can be very calming for the brain. Some bright and quirky kids may not verbalize what’s on their mind and in these cases, you can take guesses and they can nod their head if they agree. For example, “The expression on your face makes me think you’re sad. Is that right?”
3. Get your own parent support. Research shows that in difficult situations, it’s often parents who feel more anxious than their children. Find a listening partner, like a friend or online group like Bright & Quirky, to gather together so you can get comfort and support, to be a calm presence for your kids.
4. Understand that big emotions can lead to big behaviors. When bright and quirky kids are grappling with complex emotions, like trying to process a scary tragedy, it can look on the outside like irritability or challenging behavior. Interpret these as stress behaviors and do more connecting and soothing. Exercising, and having a way to get big feelings out of the body, can be helpful.
5. Let anxious kids know the chances of a shooting at their school is very low. There are 50 million children who attend school in the US. There is roughly a one-in-ten million chance of death by gunfire for a student in the US. Take a moment to help your child recalibrate their perspective.
6. Explain to older kids how violent acts are often committed by people who are hurting. Most school shooters have experienced childhood traumas such as physical or emotional abuse. They often feel isolated, with no friends. Their violence is likely a very unfortunate expression of their pain.
7. Say hello to lonely students. Share with your child that if you see a student who doesn’t have many friends at school, say hello. It’s a simple act that takes almost no time and can mean the world to a lonely child. If you hear of someone harming themselves or others, tell an adult.
8. Channel sadness toward advocacy. For older kids, you can turn to advocacy. School shootings are unfortunately a mainly American phenomenon due to the availability of certain kinds of guns. Advocacy against gun violence can be a powerful way to channel sadness over senseless acts of gun violence.
9. Take a moment of gratitude for your own precious children. We have such special little beings in our lives and, even though their lives may at times be difficult, they are loved and safe. Tell your family members how much you love and appreciate them today.
10. When in doubt, default to kindness. A powerful step in the face of violence is kindness. Take a moment and send compassionate thoughts to the families who lost their precious children. Be proactive in making your home a safe haven. Be kind to students in pain or isolation. Get your own support. Most of all, be kind, compassionate and forgiving with yourself.