The Uvalde, TX school shooting is so many things—tragic, senseless, terrifying. It has also been described as unimaginable, but unfortunately, it is not. As Moms, our hearts cried along with the families of those sweet and innocent victims. And whether our kids are old enough to remember Sandy Hook, Parkland or Columbine, many of them were asking hard-to-answer questions. We spoke to a local therapist, Rebecca Ray, about how she not only advises clients to talk to their children about school violence but how she talked to her own kids about Texas. Also, equally important as we look back on the event – she shared some ways Moms can take action, an item to purchase to help our kids contact 911 without needing a phone, and ways to get your older kids involved in helping as well.
The school shooting in Uvalde horrified and worried parents, educators, and many people in Texas and all over the United States and World. People feel vulnerable and uneasy and wonder how to talk about topics like these with children and teens. I spent much of Wednesday crying in between sessions. When I arrived home, my seven-year-old asked why I was sad. I told her that I felt sad about the school shooting, and she proceeded to tell me that her teacher was sad too and told them not to discuss it with each other. This was an excellent boundary for her teacher to set, since young children will not have adequate information or the maturity to discuss this in an appropriate way without adult supervision. It is difficult to talk about these tough subjects, but parents are the best resource for kids to ask questions about the hard stuff in life. Here are a few tips for discussing this with you children and teenagers and how to cope with the stress of such a horrific event.
1. It is okay if you get emotional. Explain to your child that you feel sad and that it is normal to feel sad after an event like this. Normalizing and naming these feelings to help kids better understand their own emotional world.
2. Use age-appropriate language and talk about age-appropriate subject matter. For very young students, answer their questions as simply as possible, and refrain from sharing frightening or gruesome details. Teenagers will naturally possess more information and knowledge about the event, and you can use this as an opportunity to explore their fears, worries, and even discuss ways they can help change our world.
3. Limit exposure to news. Young children will feel worried by the news reports. Encourage your teens to set boundaries with their phone and the time they spend reading or watching videos about the traumatic event.
4. Assure your children that they are safe, that educators and law enforcement are trained, prepared, and here to protect them while in school.
5. Help your child identify a safe adult at school who they can talk to if they feel scared. This could be their teacher or school counselor. If your child is displaying intense anxiety about school shootings, communicate this to their teacher and school counselor, so they can help your child while in school.
6. Spend time playing with your children or spend time with your teens. Engage in fun events that help life feel normal. The time you spend connecting with your children improves their self-esteem, self-worth, and helps them develop solid social skills for adulthood.
7. Get outside. Go for a hike or a walk and spend some time in nature. This will help reset your family’s nervous system and help you all feel calmer and more grounded. Spending time in nature is a great way for families to reconnect.
8. Parents and older teens can write letters to lawmakers, sign petitions, and make donations to organizations that are helping make our schools and cities safer.
9. Seek help from a therapist. A family therapist can help you and your family navigate these discussions in a safe and therapeutic setting. Therapists can help you learn skills for managing anxiety, fear, and vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma occurs when we repeatedly hear about or witness traumatic events. It’s ok if you feel traumatized by this event. In fact, these strong feelings signal that you are HUMAN, you understand that this is NOT NORMAL, and the sensitivity keeps you aware and in front of the issue. If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to a licensed therapist or counselor who will help you process your fears and sadness related to this event.
10. Older teens, adults, and college students might benefit from wearing Invisawear jewelry. The jewelry is attractive, and they also offer sport bands and keychains. There is a small button on the jewelry that silently alerts 911 and 5 emergency contacts. I purchased one for myself and my oldest son who can now drive independently. This is not a device that will allow you to track their activity, but it is a quiet and quick way to contact emergency help. This gives me peace of mind, knowing that my son can get help quickly if he is ever in danger. You can learn more about Invisawear here: https://www.invisawear.com/
Life feels scary and uncertain right now, and the violence that unfolded during May 2022 in New York, California, and Texas, only compounds the trauma we’ve experienced over the last two years. Keep loving and connecting with your children and famiy while holding hope that through love and compassion we will experience more peace and security.
To get in touch with Rebecca:
Rebecca Ray, M.MFT, LMFT, CSAT, CCPS
Ray Family Therapy