by Kathleen Welch-Torres, Ph.D.
It’s a sad new normal: school shootings happen in the United States. According to Everytown For Gun Safety there have been at least 63 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2018. Still, statistically, your child is very safe from gunfire at school. But, between the number of shootings and the amplified media coverage of them, it’s understandable if your child has heard about these tragedies and, as a parent, you are getting some tough questions from them.
First, inform yourself. Ask your child’s teacher or school administrator if they have an emergency plan in place to keep children safe in the event of an active shooting incident. Many schools do. In addition, some schools have drills and education programs to ensure students and faculty know how to respond in case of a shooting on campus. You can also talk with your local police department to find out about their plan to keep children safe in the event of a school shooting. Be sure to call your local police department’s non-emergency line (instead of 911), or email them when you are seeking this information.
Once you are accurately informed, have a conversation with your child, validate their feelings, and let them know you are there for them to talk this through. It may be hard to know what to say, especially since most parents have their own understandable anxiety about school shootings.
The National Association of School Psychologists offers these suggested key points:
• Schools are safe places. School staff works with local police and fire departments, emergency responders, and hospitals to keep you safe.
• We all play a role in school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous, or frightened.
• There is a difference between reporting and tattling, or gossiping. You can provide important information, either directly or anonymously, that may prevent harm by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
• Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect you or our school.
• Senseless violence is hard for anyone to understand. Providing children with opportunities to do things they enjoy, sticking to a normal routine, and being with friends and family can help students feel better and keep them from worrying.
• Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence. Thus, it is important that children be kept away from guns and other weapons. It is equally important that children be encouraged to tell an adult if they know someone has a gun.
• Students can be part of a positive solution to school violence by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.
If your child has heard about these tragedies and, as a parent, you are getting some tough questions from them.