When I was growing up, my parents continuously told me not to talk to strangers. Not to take candy from people I did not know. Not to go with someone who showed up at school saying my mom or dad had sent them to pick me up. I was also told never to open the door to a stranger, even if they said my parents were hurt and had sent for me. And above all, to scream to the top of my lungs if someone tried to take me against my will.

These conversations I, of course, have had with my children as well. I believe most of us parents have or do. We make it a point that kids know not to interact with strangers as it’s a risky situation.

Unfortunately, times in the US have changed, and our children at home are now worried about strangers barging in with a gun. Kids are practicing active shooter drills as part of their everyday activities at school.

So should we or not talk to them about the shootings? As with many other things, parents are divided on approaching the subject. Some parents do not believe talking about racism or war is the right thing. Let alone the many children who have lost their lives at the hands of a school shooter. A lot believe children must be sheltered from the world until they are old enough to understand. 

Others believe that honesty is of the essence these days. Covering up or sugar coating things isn’t the way to go anymore. Social media, current events, etc., make it a lot harder to build a bubble around our kids. The fact is that the country we live in isn’t perfect. The world we are part of isn’t perfect. Therefore some parents choose to tell their kids to beware, to be compassionate, to be kind. But above all, be alert.

I have read the news, processed the images, and like many people across the country, I have cried after reading reports and watching live videos of parents at the scene. I hear the parents’ reactions, and I feel for them. I picked up my daughter from school today, and as I saw her coming out with her friends, all smiles, I teared up. I can’t get those parents’ pain out of my mind or heart. Those parents will never be able to pick up their kids from school again. They will not be able to tuck them in bed tonight. They will not watch them graduate and become adults or play catch in their backyard.

I was also thinking about the many kids on that campus. They are now left with the horror of experiencing a threat to their life. The trauma of having to run for cover. The pain of having lost friends. For no reason, that makes sense to them or anyone because there simply is nothing normal about what happened two days ago in Uvalde, Texas.

This is one of those things that you cannot keep kids shielded from. Not only because it is virtually impossible since the conversation is everywhere, but because it is also not safe to not have the – what to do when a shooter shows up at school.

The question here is how much is too much or not enough when talking to your kids about this. Even more important, at what age should you discuss this kind of thing with them? I mean, the schools are doing drills already, so the conversation is already happening outside the house.  But as with everything else, it is not solely the school’s responsibility to talk to our kids about this. It is, in fact, primarily ours as parents to do so.

Each child is different. They are individuals who, even if they come from the same family and have been raised the same way, each process information, events, and feelings in different ways. So the following list must be managed at the parent’s discretion as, ultimately, you know your child better than anyone else, especially when it comes to their level of maturity.

But before you approach the subject of a school shooting, you must process the information yourself. The way we react, respond, or handle anything in life impacts the reaction or response our child will have. 

For that reason, essential conversations must occur when you, the adult, have processed the situation yourself. This will ensure that you do not relay unnecessary information, feelings, or thoughts to a much younger mind that could easily become confused.

Second, remind yourself how old your child is before talking to them. I have three kids, and they are all intelligent beyond words. Our conversations are often deep. But as a parent, I have taught myself to remember that even though they are smart and wise, I must step back and remember they are still young or a child. I must mindfully approach the subject and understand that my language will impact the way their mind will process information and feelings we share back and forth.

If you have pre-schoolers, you are probably skipping this talk. But if they go to daycare or preschool, some may be doing drills. They may have the usual random question that is more of a curiosity type. But, nonetheless, reassure your child that you will protect them and keep them safe. Remind them to seek help if they are in trouble and tell them there isn’t a right or wrong way to ask for help. And above all, regardless of anything, make sure you say, “I love you, and I will always keep you safe.”

Once kids get to grade school, things can be a little bit harder, depending on age. Again traditionally, we had been doing a pretty good job of sheltering our kids from the country’s horrors and the world. But unfortunately, the sanctity of a school is no longer a guarantee tragic events will avoid entering their doors. Sadly enough, a school now is a target to an unstable mind looking to end life and cause pain.

It is for that reason that while young at 5 -7 years of age, drills have already been introduced at school. That, to some kids, might be the beginning of the conversation as they come home and tell you they participated in a drill. They may go home with a lot of questions. Answer as many as you can. Do not over-elaborate. Children at this young age think in simpler terms. So be direct but not overwhelmingly articulate. At this age, the most important thing you can do when they ask you about a shooting is to reassure them that you will keep them safe. Use simple sentences to express your feelings and let them know you understand theirs. 

Reassure them as much as you can that they are safe, and you will make sure they will be kept secure. Kids at this age need to have absolute confidence that you got a handle on things; even if you are trying to figure it out, they should not be afraid that you do not know how to protect them. 

Do highlight the importance of following school instruction when it comes to emergency drills. Remind them to ask questions. To stay close to teachers. Do not dwell on the word “shooting.” Try to focus on what to do to stay safe in case of an emergency instead of harboring feelings of getting shot. I cannot say this enough. Reassure them they are safe.

Tweens and teens will be more tricky to give simple answers to. At this age, they are becoming their own person and mind. They may even have opinions about the subject and sometimes even solutions! As parents and adults, we must listen. You have to remember that this group of kids has access to social media, online news, chat groups, games, etc. They will inevitably hear what happened, sometimes even with more details than you have. 

Once you have gathered what information they have, it is your turn to help them sort it out if they want. Tweens and teens have that sense of having grown up and may even believe they already have all the answers! Interesting things, as scary as it sounds, sometimes they have more detailed information than we expected them to have.

You want to be honest with tweens and teens. And for that, stick to the facts. Do not over or underwhelm information. This will be confusing to them or may even cause some trust to be lost because remember, they have access to pretty much the same news sources you have. 

Do not force the conversation. Believe it or not, some of these conversations have to happen in their time. In fact, they must do. They may seem uninterested right after school but may finally be ready to open up right before bedtime. Do not dismiss their readiness. Yes, we all have schedules, but the right time is when they are prepared to share their mind and heart. We must respect how they process and do it in their own time.

Tell them how the events made you feel. Express your feelings. Stating your fears or pain is important. Not letting kids know events like this effect you send the message that you do not care. It also helps them see you being empathetic to someone else’s pain while your words prompt them to express their own fears and worries, if any exist within them.

As with the younger kids, make them feel safe. Tell them you will always be there. Convey your trust in those seeking solutions and discovering findings if applicable. Remind them it will take time to get all the information about such a fatal event. But reassure them that as the process works, you are open to talking about it as needed and again in their own timeline.

As with a lot of parenting, we do not have a perfect answer or one solution to how to approach these types of conversations. Add on the fact that these things are scary and happening a lot. We are still in shock and don’t know what to make of the state of the country when it comes to school shootings.

While it is important to be open, your child shouldn’t be sitting in front of news reports non-stop. This isn’t healthy for kids or adults! Do not try to influence your child’s perception of the events. Provide information, help them process it but let them come to their own conclusion through safe and reassuring conversation. 

As parents, we are our children’s role models. Be vocal and assertive about your stance on important topics in the world but do not impose your beliefs. Our kids need to be inspired and guided, not forced to take one or the other side of things. 

Provide information, let them process it, and ask questions about how they came to their own conclusion and feelings about this topic. Your behavior as parents is imperative. Last but not least. As parents, we have an obligation to keep our kids safe so consider getting involved.

Whether we like it or not, talking to kids about school shootings, we need to do it. We must take action as well. Sadly, not having these conversations or taking action puts our kids at risk.

Shootings should not be normalized or accepted in the US or any part of the world. Be honest with yourself and with your kids.  Explore ways to get involved and help the community you live in find solutions to stop these massacres from happening. 

Words have an impact, but actions make change. As parents, we need to have this conversation with our kids for their own safety and well-being and together find closure to the terrible feelings a school shooting leaves behind.