Once again, a tragedy has occurred inside a high school -- three students killed and two wounded by a teen gunman in an Ohio school cafeteria. How can I reassure my kids (and myself!) they are safe going to high school each day?
Parents should calm their own anxieties first, or children will pick up on parents' fears, says Gilda MacDonald, a school social worker at Newfield High School in Selden. "Try to be realistic," she says. Such things don't happen every day, and we need to put the event into perspective.
If your child hasn't brought up the shooting, bring up the topic yourself, advises Robert Motta, a psychologist and director of the Family and Child Trauma Institute at Hofstra University. Sit at the dinner table and say, "I want to talk to you about the shooting," Motta says. Ask: What have you heard about it? What are your feelings? Do you think this could happen to you? Ask your child to rate his or her fear on a scale of 1 to 10.
"Kids feel a tremendous sense of vulnerability: 'This could have been me.' If they don't get it out and confront these anxieties, these feelings tend to fester," Motta says. Allay their fears by reassuring them of the rarity of such events. "Don't wait for them to talk," he says. "Some of them will just sit on these feelings. Push through that barrier by insisting they talk about it."
Guidance counselors or mental health counselors at your children's schools are also available for support, MacDonald says.