Talking to your kids about school shootings

It's a difficult discussion modern parents must have. Photo: StockRocket

After every school shooting there is an outcry for change or solutions to make sure it doesn’t happen again; however, already in 2018 there have been at least 17 instances of gun violence in U.S. schools, including the recent shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. They are becoming all too common, and the frustrating part is nothing seems to change to prevent it from happening again.

What is also becoming all too common is having to sit down and talk to our children about this. With each breaking news alert, it becomes harder to use my go-to line: “that happened far away and couldn’t happen at your school”. It becomes harder and harder to reassure our children of this, when as the parent, I can’t even convince myself.

So how do we work through our own fears while trying to quiet those of our children? Here are some tips that can help you try to do that.


We can’t begin to help our children process the unimaginable until we have processed it ourselves. Establish your own support system whether it is a spouse, friend, or family member you can talk to, so you can work through your own feelings and emotions. It may start out as sadness or grief but then move to anger or frustration.

It is best to work through all this before talking to your child. When that time comes, the best we can do is to model calm behavior. We can be sad but not hysterical. This will help our children understand when bad things happen we are affected, but also we can learn from these experiences.

It is also important for our children to know who their support system is to sort through their feelings. Let them know you are there for them but so are others such as teachers, counselors, or maybe other close family members.


Don’t rush to share disturbing news with your children unless you are fearful they will hear about it somewhere else. If they do bring it up or you want them to hear it from you, start by asking what they have heard or what they know. When talking about a school shooting, answer questions in an honest yet age appropriate way. Remember, just as your first thought may have been could this happen at my child’s school? this may also be your child’s first reaction. It’s best if our children get the story and the facts from us as parents and to limit their amount of television, radio, and Internet exposure.


One of the best ways we can work through our own fear or our children’s is to help them understand they aren’t helpless and they do have a voice. We can teach and model for them ways to channel powerless feelings into actions that can help make change. We have seen this from the students who survived the Parkland High School shooting who have channeled their fear, anger, and frustration by organizing the recent nationwide March for Our Lives, which called for legislative action to prevent gun violence. If you weren’t able to attend the march, there are other ways you can help give your children a voice that includes writing to representatives in Congress or by encouraging them not to
buy or watch violent video games or movies that promote gun violence.

In the end, when tragedy strikes the best thing we can do as parents is to reassure our children the world is a good place but there are people who do horrible things. Active shooter drills have become just as common in many schools as fire and earthquake drills. Talk with your children about the measures that have been taken at their school and at your home to keep them safe. My biggest hope is these drills become a thing of the past and someday soon we live in a world where we don’t need these tips because there are no more school shootings. Let’s hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly she was a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in the Bay Area. E-mail: [email protected]