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An Echo Press Editorial: How to talk to kids about school shooting

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, May 24 left at least 19 students and two teachers dead.

In the aftermath, parents in all parts of the country are coming to grips with the tragedy and are faced with the agonizing question of what – if anything – to tell their children about the news. It’s an inescapable topic that’s constantly making headlines and drawing heated debate. Trying to shield children from knowing about it is an almost impossible task. Chances are, children are talking about it with their friends and classmates.

So what should parents do to help their children through this national nightmare?

It starts with asking children how they are feeling and thinking.

A May 26 story by Minnesota Public Radio shared a list of resources and tips for parents about how to talk to kids when the news is scary. It was compiled by the American School Counselor Association. At the top is the recommendation to keep routines in place. When school shootings cause children to feel afraid or anxious, they may find comfort in maintaining daily activities. "Kids gain security from the predictability of routine," the association said.
Other tips from the counselor association:

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  • Limit exposure to television and the news.
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
  • Families and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

Axios, a news website based in Arlington County, Virginia, offered some simple but helpful advice: Listen to children. Be honest with them. Take "news breaks” with them. Kids often simply need to talk things out and know someone — anyone — is listening.
In the wake of the shooting, schools around the country did something that would have been unimaginable a generation ago, Axios reported — they sent home pointers about how to talk to kids about mass tragedy.

Axios shared what parents are being told from Colorado to New York, Wisconsin to Texas:

  • Listen: "Discuss news stories with your children, asking about their thoughts and feelings about what they saw, read, or heard and correct any misunderstandings or confusion," Hafedh Azaiez, superintendent of Round Rock schools in suburban Austin, wrote to parents.
  • Watch: Be aware of what older kids are seeing online. You'd be shocked how much on-the-scene video gets shared on Instagram and TikTok.
  • Preserve routines: Kids feel safety in normalcy. Try not to marinate in — or let kids marinate in — the sadness and madness.
  • Be honest: Encourage questions, and tailor answers based on kids' age. If they're under 7, keep it simple and say something like: "Someone hurt people." For older kids, provide clear answers — while also reassuring them that parents, teachers and administrators have plans to keep them safe.
  • Take care of yourself: "Allow yourself to feel, to grieve, to be angry, to be frustrated," Minneapolis Public Schools told families. "Then collect yourself before engaging with your child."
  • John Wallace, principal of Randall Elementary in Madison, Wisconsin, told students: “[Y]our teachers and I talk about these things all the time and have plans in place if anything should not seem right. We don’t talk to you about that, but I want you to know we talk about that."

The bottom line, Axios reported: “This is hard. Check in with the kids, parents, teachers and school workers in your life – and with yourself. It's not about having the perfect thing to say, psychologists tell us. It's about showing up.”

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