According to the Washington Post's tracker, there were more school shootings in 2022 than in any year since 1999, and over 74 people have been killed in school shootings in 2023 alone. Once upon a time, mass shootings were rare but now they're so common we cannot ignore them. In fact, we should be having ongoing, developmentally appropriate conversations about them with our kids.
But first, reassure them that they are safe...
Reassure your kids that their school is safe. Schools across the country are implementing increased safety measures to prevent themselves from becoming a target, and if you don't know the protocol at your child's school, I encourage you to inquire. Having a better understanding of the school's safety plans in the event of danger can aid in lessening your feelings of anxiousness which you can then harness to reassure your child of the steps taken to protect them.
Keep your talks developmentally appropriate, as recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists:
Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
As always, remember this is not a one-and-done conversation. You will need to check-in with your kids periodically to assess how they might be navigating their feelings around gun violence. Although it may not appear to be a relevant topic in your home environment, it may often come up at school amongst teachers and peers. A general rule of thumb is to role model how you sit with and process when you feel scared. In doing so, you demonstrate the practice of emotional regulation and equip your child with the life skills they need to grow into an emotionally balanced adult.