Talking to your kids about school shootings

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The Nashville school shooting that left three kids and three adults dead has shaken the country and many kids’ sense of security in their classrooms.

Health experts say now is the time to empower your kids to come forward with their thoughts and feelings involving violence in general. Experts told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that these types of incidents can trigger traumatic experiences a child may have had previously.

The tragic shooting in Nashville brings harrowing memories for Rick Kaufman who helped with the emergency response in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 people and wounded 26 others.

Rick Kaufman is the executive director of community relations and emergency management for Bloomington Public Schools. Kaufman is also a national consultant and trainer on emergency management and crisis communications, having worked in public schools and emergency management for more than 30 years.

“Having experienced it, I know what the Covenant School community and the Greater Nashville community is going through today,” said Kaufman. “How can 20 plus years later these incidents continue to happen?”

Kaufman is offering advice to parents that are hoping to talk to their kids about these types of tragedy.

“It’s important to allow students and children to explain all that they are feeling but do it in a way that lets them talk, that lets them guide where that conversation is and help to put that in prospective of what they might be thinking or feeling,” he said.

Limiting TV and social media for kids can also help. Kaufman said repetitive coverage creates more anxiety that something bad is going to happen.

“Talking to kids and teens helps them make sense out of things and helps them bring things to the open and reduces fear,” said Dr. David Nathan, a psychologist with Allina Health. “When parents don’t talk about these subjects children and teens can get the idea is so big and scary that adults can’t help them.”

Dr. Nathan adds that when adults talk to children it helps build structure around the topic and it helps teens keep their thoughts and feelings under control. Nathan advises parents to not wait for their child to bring up the topic and to be truthful about the situation.

“The best response that parents can have after their children are able to say what they want to say is first validate that yeah it’s scary. The second part is make sure kids and teens know that adults are there to keep them safe,” Nathan said.

Nathan said you can expect older kids to have more specific concerns and questions and if a child seems really scared and angry, it’s best to go to a mental health provider including at Allina Health.

“We know schools are very safe,” said Kaufman. “These are very rare incidents so it’s important for parents to ensure our children that they are safe and emphasize school safety each and every day.”

Kaufman said according to the Pew Research Center, more than 348,000 students experienced gun violence at or on school campuses in 376 school shootings since Columbine. In 2023 alone, there have been 13 K-12 school shootings.

Superintendent Dr. Astein Osei with St. Louis Park Public Schools sent out a message to families Tuesday.

In part the message reads:

“We are constantly reviewing our security measures to ensure there are multiple layers of safety in place to protect students and staff. We also urge everyone to speak up if they see or hear anything that could present a potential threat to school safety.”

If you wish to talk about school shootings and help your children process their feelings at home, you can review these resources from National Association of School Psychologist and American Academy of Pediatrics