How to handle a national crisis with your children

Every morning I start out my day by dropping my kids off at school. It’s usually a pretty seamless operation, except for the intermittent grumpy days. Today was different. After first dropping off my little guy, I made my way to drop off my 2nd grader.

As I exited her classroom after a hug and kiss, she came out running out to me. She proceeded to do this four more times. Finally, on the fifth time as I once against asked what was wrong, she said, “I’m scared. My family isn’t here at this school. Only my little brother is, and he’s in a different building than me. I’m scared.” Knowing that a friend at school who watches the nightly news had told her about the Parkland shooting, I found myself in the hall of an elementary school assuring my daughter that she is safe at school.

Our nation’s hearts are grieving with the families of the Parkland shooting victims. And while it’s become a catalyst for dialogue led by an amazing group of high school students and survivors, the story has stayed in the headlines and likely will for some time. And while we aren’t always aware, the news around this shooting and the loss of life often finds a way to our children’s eyes and ears.

So what should we parents do? How do we protect our children while realizing that we cannot completely shelter them? Below are some tips about ways to support your child as our nation grieves the Parkland shooting:

Tip #1: Reassure your child. Children of all ages want to know that they are safe.

Tip #2: Be honest. Answer all of your child’s questions directly and honestly.

Tip #3: Pay attention to your child’s developmental level. As a parent, you know what your child understands, how much detail you need to provide and what they can handle. Consider modifying your level of detail as well as the wording you use when talking about the incident.

Tip #4: Open the lines of communication. Find out what your child knows first and don’t be shocked if it’s more than you expected, as happened to me lately. By allowing your child to tell what they know, you’ll find out if they have any misinformation and you will avoid exposing your child to what he or she may not actually know. Don’t assume silence means that your child is not aware.

Tip #5: Limit media exposure. While avoiding media is extremely hard with our 24-hour news cycle and prolific social media, it is still important. No matter the age of your children, try to avoid the exposure to graphic images on media outlets.

Tip #6: Talk to your children’s school. Find out what they’re doing, both to use in reassuring your child and yourself but also so you can prepare your child for days when they will have active shooter and shelter in place drills.

Tip #7: Take care of yourself. Your child’s safety and emotional well-being is inextricably linked to yours. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself, including limiting your own exposure to graphic images or descriptions and finding moments of self-care. Finally, it is ok to cry in front of your children and explain that you are expressing emotions. Just avoid hysterical moments in front of children if you can, as that can be disturbing.

I hope these tips can help you and your children as we work to make sense of what is happening around us.

– Darcy Walker Krause, Executive Director