Here is how to talk to kids about fear of school shootings, lockdowns

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – A few days after the school shooting that killed three children and three adults in Tennessee, deputies in Broward County arrested a Charles W. Flanagan High School student Wednesday who told them that she had made a false threat that prompted a lockdown because she didn’t want to go to school.

Amid fears about where the next school shooting or lockdown will be, Dr. Daniel Bober, the chief of psychiatry at Memorial Regional Hospital, said it is important for parents to take the time to talk to their children and teenagers about how to cope with the stress.

“In the age of social media and digital technology, there is really no way that kids are not finding out about this,” said Bober, who helped students and parents to deal with the aftermath of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Bober said parents first need to assess the needs of the child and find an age-appropriate way to approach the subject.

“Younger children, you just want to reassure them that they have a sense of safety and security,” Bober said. “You want to let them know that the police are going to protect them, that you are going to protect them ... The older the child, the more information you give them.”

Bober also said parents who are stressed about sending their kids to school also have to deal with their own emotions and establish a sense of normalcy and security.

“There are a hundred thousand schools in the United States and your child’s chances of being involved in a school shooting are infinitesimally low,” Bober said.

The need for open communication is continual, so one conversation is not enough. Bober suggests that parents regularly assess their kids’ mental health.

“Unfortunately, this has become part of the everyday world that we live in,” Bober said. “We have to find a balance between being careful, being smart and cautious, but not being so terrified that we cease to live our lives.”

After the arrest in Broward County, the school principal asked parents to talk to their kids about the real-life risks of making false threats and about the importance of continuing to follow the “see something, say something” motto.

Here is a list of expert tips by experts with the National Association of School Psychologists and others:

  • Reassure children that they are safe while validating their feelings and reviewing their school’s safety procedures. Some children need assistance separating reality from fantasy, so talk about the measures that adults are taking to keep them safe
  • Make time to talk and answer their questions, read what they are writing about, ask them about their art project, or use imaginative play.
  • Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. The younger they are, the more simple the message. Talk about their feelings about an emergency drill.
  • Listen calmly to your teenagers’ opinions and suggestions about how to make school safer and be proactive by communicating their concerns to school administrators.
  • Watch for signs of trauma: Observe their emotional state by taking note of their behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns, which can be indicators of their level of anxiety or fear. Be proactive and seek psychological help if you or your family needs it.

Source: The National Association of School Psychologists

About the Author:

Sanela Sabovic joined Local 10 News in September 2012 as an assignment editor and associate producer. In August 2015, she became a full-time reporter and fill-in traffic reporter. Sanela holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in radio, television and film from DePaul University.