Brooke Beyma

While there are many topics that parents struggle to explain to their children, perhaps the most difficult is the growing number of school shootings in recent years. Unfortunately, within the past ten years, instances of gun violence within American schools have gone from a rare tragedy to almost an almost weekly occurrence. These high-profile violent events have become a major point of anxiety and fear for many children who are concerned for their and their fellow students’ safety. As children look to the adults in their lives to feel safe both at home and in school, it is crucial that these adults, particularly parents, address the topic of school shootings and provide their children with a safe space to discuss their fears and concerns.

Brooke Beyma, a University of Tampa student currently pursuing a career as a school psychologist, understands the concerns parents often have when discussing such traumatic and horrific topics with their children, especially children of a young age. Although the hesitation to address these topics is understandable, Brooke Beyma stresses their importance and hopes to provide parents with the tools needed to discuss the topic of school shootings in a healthy and age-appropriate manner.


Discuss the Topic with the Child in an Honest and Open Manner

While many parents may hesitate to bring up conversations of extreme violence with their children, addressing the topic of school shootings is crucial. Parents often believe they are protecting their children from the knowledge of these horrific events by not discussing them at home; however, it is still possible that the child will learn of these events at home or from their peers. However, parents who bring up the topic with their children have the opportunity to address their child’s questions and concerns safely and help inform them of the realities of these events.

When addressing the topic of school shootings with your child, it is essential that parents allow their child to speak their minds regarding the subject and voice their fears and questions in a safe environment.

Adapt the Conversation to the Child and their Age

Children of different age groups will demonstrate varying degrees of understanding and processing of complex topics. For example, a child in fourth grade will have a different understanding of the US government than a student in their junior year of high school. When speaking to children about violence, it is vital to adapt the conversation to the child and their age group to communicate the topic more clearly. If a parent is unsure how best to discuss the topic with their child, an excellent first step is to ask the child what they know about a particular event. Let the child lead the conversation by asking them open-ended questions and their thoughts and questions regarding different aspects of the topic. Finally, Brooke Beyma recommends parents avoid interrupting their child, discussing graphic elements of school shootings, or overwhelming their child with superfluous information during their conversation.

Discuss their Fears Regarding Safety

Understandably, the topic of school shootings can frighten and confuse children and lead them to feel unsafe in their school setting. This is an unfortunate and natural reaction that must be met with patience and reassurance from parents and educators. During these conversations, it is important that parents listen and take stock of children’s fears, validate these feelings, but assure children that schools are a safe place and that they themselves are safe. Parents must provide context and perspective to the issue and stress that there are many people in the child’s life working every day to keep them safe and make school a safe environment for them. Parents should not make promises they cannot keep, such as “I promise nothing bad will happen,” and instead should remind their children of all the steps the adults in their lives
are taking to keep them out of harm.

Brooke BeymaSticking to a Routine and Completing Normal Tasks

Structure and consistency provide children with a strong sense of safety, as they are able to predict each step of their daily routine and prepare accordingly. During periods of high stress and anxiety, particularly after a traumatic event that questions their safety, having children return to their routine will help build back a solid foundation and lower anxiety levels. It is understandable that after a high-profile violent event like a school shooting takes place, children will likely have anxiety over what will happen in the upcoming days. It is important that parents discuss their children’s immediate future, stress that their lives will return to normal, and work to reset their child’s routine.

Teach Children Different De-Stress Techniques

One of the best tools parents can give their children after a violent event is the ability to calm themselves in a healthy manner. For parents who are unfamiliar with different calming techniques, Brooke Beyma recommends the following breathing exercise to children of all ages:

Hot Air Balloon: Ask children to sit crossed-legged and cup their hands in a circle in front of their mouth. As they take a deep breath in through their nose and slowly out through their mouth, ask them to grow their hands outward in time with their exhale (mimicking a balloon being inflated) until they blow an enormous hot air balloon. Next, parents can ask their children to breathe normally and sway side to side to admire their hot air balloon before letting it go to soar through the sky.