After Santa Fe: Talking to Your Child about Tragedy
Dr. Karen Mason
Associate Professor of Counseling and Psychology
The Santa Fe school shooting brings home, yet again, the violent nature of our society. At a distance, we pray for the families newly devastated by loss and for hope and healing within their communities. Closer to home, parents in the general public wonder how they are to approach the sensitive topic of school shootings with their own children. As you care for the needs of the young and tender hearts in your life, consider the following tips:
- Be their best source of information. While it may be tempting to protect your child from knowing that bad things happen, it is best that they get the news from you rather than from someone else. You will be able to share your conviction that God is still sovereign and is with us even in the midst of tragedy. One way to start the conversation is to ask what your child already knows. Ask “what have you heard about …?”
- Be truthful. This does not mean that you need to share every detail. Share only what your child can understand at his or her age.
- Talk about everything you and your child’s school and community are doing to keep your child safe. Stick to your mealtime and bedtime routines as much as possible. This helps children feel safe.
- Monitor your child’s access to media. She or he doesn’t need continual exposure to the event. Young children might think that the tragedy is happening over and over.
- Listen to your child’s feelings about the event again and again. Younger children might want to draw pictures about their feelings. You can share your feelings, too. All humans have an emotional reaction to tragedy. Children will be able to see that though you have feelings, you are able to continue on. Help build your child’s resilience, the ability to recover following a challenge. Share your faith in God’s sovereignty and how that comforts you when tragedy strikes. Help your child to understand that we can’t control everything but we can take responsibility for some things. Share what is good alongside what is bad. Mister Rogers would advise us to look for the helpers in the midst of the tragedy. Help your child find safe harbors. Build a strong family life. Nurture hope.
If you find your child is not bouncing back, finding a counselor who can help them further is a good idea.
- View Riverside Trauma Center’s resource on talking with children about traumatic events.
- Read the American Psychological Association’s helpful resource on how to build resilience.
- Read Dr. Jacqueline Dyer’s blog post, National Tragedy and Self-Care.