Three mass shootings within a week. How do you escape hearing the news? And how should parents handle the stress of that news in raising and talking to their kids?
“I think the key thing is parents should allow kids to ask questions and share their feelings,” said Doreen Osumi, superintendent of Yuba City Unified School District.
Gary Cena, superintendent of Marysville Joint Unified School District, said with mass shootings being a concern across the country, it’s important to be proactive and talk to students so they have a better contextual understanding about what’s going on.
However, the discussion a parent has may differ depending on a child’s age.
Sally Spatafore, school psychologist at River Valley High School, said parents should keep in mind their child’s age and developmental level.
“You don’t want to introduce scary topics unless it’s something (the student) is ready for,” Spatafore said.
Some children may not know that shootings are taking place; others, who may have access to the internet and television, may be familiar with the events.
She said parents can initiate conversations with open-ended questions – such as, if a child is watching the news with a parent, asking “what are your thoughts and feelings about what you’re seeing?”
“Then, you can introduce your own values about what’s going on,” Spatafore said. “... I do think with older students, with it being prevalent in the news, try having open-ended conversations.”
She said parents can also draw attention to the positive things that people are doing in response – such as how the first responders are helping those affected, or people who line up to give blood.
“With older students, they may want to explore what they can do to help a situation,” Spatafore said.
In that case, she said parents can ask their student to share their thoughts on what they may want to do.
Cena said for a younger child, the conversation could be more general and emphasize that, overall, school is a safe place and that the adults are there to keep them safe.
He said that parents can talk about how the children should follow their teachers’ instructions – whether they ask the students to sit down and stay away from the windows or be quiet or, if the teacher feels it’s safe, to leave the room.
“If they reinforce to their student that school is a safe place and their teachers and school staff are trying and that they conduct regular drills and are in continual communication with law enforcement and other agencies -- so that they’re all on the same page in the event that something should happen,” he said.
Spatafore said, in general, it’s important to teach children to be aware of their surroundings, like how can they watch over themselves and friends.
“You just have to be careful not to scare your children into being afraid,” she said.
If students hear rumors or observe something that seems suspicious or concerning, they should bring it to the attention of an adult, Spatafore said.
Spatafore said overall, children are very safe in schools and in their own communities, and that she believes people should focus on that while they can’t guarantee that nothing will happen, it doesn't mean something will.
“It’s a possibility, not a probability,” she said.