Columbine High School

Sandy Hook Elementary School

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; the list goes on.

What do all these schools have in common?


After the recent events in Florida and multiple threats of violence in surrounding schools, I felt inclined to provide a few helpful tips to support children DURING and AFTER these occurrences.  School violence can create uncomfortable feelings not only in children but adults, as well!  One act of violence has the ability to create a rippling effect across the nation. I’m sure many of you reading this can relate.

When a school shooting occurs, regardless of the location, people across the nation are impacted.  Cue the “empty-gut” feeling and associated anger, sadness, empathy, and worry.  During this time, it is important that we come together and serve as a support to our children as well as each other! 

I can still remember Columbine.  I was in High School… I guess that’s why it’s stuck with me.  It’s crazy to think what I can still remember.  I remember scenes from news broadcasts; I remember thoughts over the weeks that followed; I remember precautions taken at school; I remember worries about going to school; I remember wishes that my last name started with a letter other than “A” so I would NOT be seated in the front of the classroom.

Isn’t that crazy??  These are the thoughts, the feelings, and the reactions that school violence can create.  These are only mine. Currently, children across the nation are suffering from not only those mentioned above but many more.  So, what can we do to help??

What to Look for…

Shock and trauma can create many uncomfortable feelings; different feelings for different people.  Below are only SOME of the feelings your child may experience:

  • Excessive Worry
  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Uncertainty
  • Anger

Ways to Support YOUR Child…

1.  Stay Calm

Children often look to adults for comfort and reassurance.  Even though your insides are probably flooding with emotion, try to stay calm in front of your child.   Seek support from family and friends to work through your own thoughts and feelings.  Having an outlet of your own will allow you to continue to take care of your own needs so, in turn, you can take care of your child’s.

2.  Embrace the Conversation

DO NOT act like nothing happened.  I repeat… DO NOT act like nothing happened.  It’s being broadcast all over the news and people are talking about it so, more than likely, your child is well aware.

Be sure to openly talk to your child.  Be the initiator if your child doesn’t do so however do not force the conversation.  Let your child know that you are available whenever he/she is ready.

This is a difficult step and for good reason. 

What do I say?  What if I say too much?  What if I say too little?

Sound familiar?

The details are not nearly as important as the IMPACT.  In fact, don’t spend a lot of time discussing the details.  Use the conversation to discuss your child’s thoughts, fears, and worries that have surfaced as a result of the most recent school shooting.

Details and information shared will depend on the age of your child.  If you find yourself struggling to find the words (like many of us), check out the article below for some ideas:

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Don’t tell your child “Don’t worry.  It won’t happen at your school.” Unfortunately, none of us know that for sure.

Instead, assure your child that precautions are being taken to improve school safety.  Discuss current policies and Emergency Preparedness Plans in place for similar situations. 

3.  Limit Exposure to Events

Let’s face it… the events of the latest school shooting will be broadcast regularly over the upcoming weeks, possibly months.  Updates on the charges, trial, and history of the shooter; updates on survivors and victim’s families; debates about necessary changes…it will continue.

Take a break from the news.  

Although important to stay current, too much exposure to traumatic events can potentially traumatize and/or re-traumatize your child. 

4.  Observe Attitudes and Behaviors

Take notice to any major changes in your child’s behavior.  Although the feelings mentioned above are typical, be sure your child works through the feelings rather than “bottles” them up.  This can be done by writing in a journal, talking to you, or talking to a professional.

When thoughts and feelings are “bottled-up” and repressed rather than talked about, many other negative outcomes can arise (e.g. depression, social withdrawal, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares).

5.  Keep Routines

Let’s face it… everyone likes routines.  Although many children act as if they hate them, I’ve found that many find comfort in routines.  For some, it’s the only certainty they know.  Routines and predictability bring out feelings of security and normalcy.  This is very important.

6.  Seek the Help of a Professional

Do not be afraid to seek help for your child.  If you feel as if your child’s behavior continues to worsen, seek the support of a professional.  Regression can be observed in many different aspects of your child’s life, including mentally, socially, academically, financially, and/or spiritually.

Some professionals offer free-consultations in which you can discuss your concerns and seek advice from those who specialize in trauma and mental health related issues.  To find a provider, you can go through your insurance or do an online search of providers in your area.

In conclusion, in a world full of uncertainty take advantage of the things you can be certain about.  You are in control of how you handle this situation and if you’re unsure how to do so… get advice or ask for help!  My next post will piggy back off this one and provide some insight into helping children through the grieving process after the loss of a loved one. 

Any other recommendations for supporting a child after a school shooting?


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