How to Support Your Child During Scary and Uncertain Times

Haley Zapal | May 27, 2022 | Digital Wellbeing Parenting Tips School Safety

How to support your child image of father and son

News of the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has left parents across the U.S. heartbroken and struggling to make sense of everything. But perhaps even more difficult is trying to explain — or even comfort — kids during this scary and uncertain time. 

We reached out to Tessa Stuckey, licensed professional counselor, for ways to support children in the wake of senseless violence. School is an essential part of a child’s life, and whether or not a young person will ever experience a shooting first-hand doesn’t matter — these tragedies affect all kids on a very deep level. It’s important for families to talk to, listen to, and make sure their kids are processing what’s going on in the world around them. 

To start, how should you frame these conversations?

First and foremost, every family has different needs or circumstances to take into consideration, as well as each individual child. Depending on your child’s age and situation, you're going to have a different discussion when talking about what happened. It’s important as well for parents to think of their goals for starting a conversation. Is it to provide comfort in anxious kiddos? Is it to make sure they understand what happened rather than hearing rumors? Is it to open up the opportunity for questions? There’s no one right answer, and all of these are great reasons to have this talk.

What are some ways to discuss the tragic events that happen in schools in a way kids can understand?

Admit that you are upset by recent events yourself and that you don't always know how to talk about these tough topics. Stress that you always want your child to feel safe and comfortable to discuss these kinds of things. Start off by asking your child what they've heard already and let them help guide the conversation, letting yourself chime in to correct any misconceptions or rumors. Or, you can start off by describing an age-appropriate version of "Something really horrible happened at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday. A man had a gun and put many kids in danger. Some kids even died. This man did a horrible thing that many families will have to mourn forever. I don't want you to be scared or unsafe so I want you to ask me any question you might have about what happened." Focus on your goals for the discussion and make sure those are the focus points.

How can you comfort and support your child when they're scared of being hurt at school?

You want to always reassure that your child is safe at home as well as at the school that they go to. Their school takes safety measures seriously and are doing everything they can to prevent something so tragic. Find some proof on the school’s website or handbook and share that with your child. For example, you could say, "Do you know those doors that are locked whenever I come to pick you up and I have to be buzzed in? That's there to prevent this from happening at your school." Talk about the caring hearts of the teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff. Because of this tragedy, schools across the nation are undoubtedly going to increase their security and safety. Maybe they'll even spend extra time this summer getting ready for a super-safe school year in the fall.

How can you build resiliency with your family in these stressful and scary times?

As horrible and tragic these events are, they happen and they are part of our children's stories. Just like we remember 9/11, the shooting at Columbine High, or even the death of Princess Diana, horrible things occur and they become part of our story. But we just want to be sure we are experiencing them secondarily rather than directly, if we’re not closely connected to the events. 

Keeping an open dialogue and availability for questions is also important. Helping your kids find strength when they’re feeling anxious (learning how to cope properly by using thought redirection or relaxing actions, for example) will help them process what has happened as well as build emotional strength to get through tough times ahead. If they don't take the time — even the short amount kids typically need — to process correctly, they will not build the resilience needed for stressful times. Try to avoid video games, YouTube, or social media as those create distractions and don’t facilitate true processing. (We know, that’s easier said than done).  Instead, try and spend some quality time as a family. Oftentimes, just spending time together with loved ones can bring comfort and healing in uncertainty.

And lastly, turn off the news. Our generation didn’t grow up with a 24/7/365 news cycle and our kids certainly don't need to hear about it all the time. This will help them accept what has happened, process it, and move forward with the right emotional strength their little minds and hearts can handle.

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Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.