Easing Anxiety and Fears About School Shootings

anxious teen boy in school bathroom
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When tragic school shootings take over the headlines, it's not surprising that parents and their children experience deepening worries and fears that a shooting could take place in their school. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to feel everything from shock and sorrow, to numbness, fear, anxiety and even anger. 

While school shootings are a very real fear, the fact is that they are still exceedingly rare in comparison to other risks teens face like car accidents, overdoses and suicides. Still, this fact does not make the fear any less real or intense. For this reason, it is important to take steps to lessen those fears and anxieties so that the thought of a school shooting is not all-consuming. 

Come to Terms With Your Own Fears

The first step in addressing fears over a school shooting is to take a look at your own worries and concerns. While it is perfectly normal to be worried and even afraid to send your child to school in the days and weeks following a school shooting somewhere else in the country, if it is interfering with your ability to allow your children to function normally, it is time to dig a little deeper.

Sometimes these concerns are best addressed with the help of a mental health professional. Likewise, they are not something that you go into great detail with your kids, including your teenagers. Ideally, your kids will see that you are reasonably concerned but not fearful. Try not to be too clingy when they leave for school and save the worry-filled conversations for the adults in your lives.  

Validate Your Child's Feelings

It is not uncommon for children, and even teens, to feel nervous or anxious every day in school. And, if there is an active shooter drill, or even just a fire drill, this heightens the sense of worry and concern they have about a potential shooting.

Consequently, make sure you are talking to your kids about their feelings. Even if your child has said nothing about the recent school shootings, start a conversation about it. Just because they are not mentioning it, does not mean they are not worried or concerned.

This conversation also allows you to gauge how much they are struggling with fear and anxiety. Remember, talking about fears is healthy. So, resist the urge to try to smooth things over or minimize their feelings. Make sure you listen to their concerns and address them honestly and without judgment.

Reassure Your Kids

According to the American School Counselor Association, it is important to remind kids that the world is a good place where bad things sometimes happen. Additionally, remind them that there are a lot of people working very hard to make sure this type of thing does not happen in their school.

For instance, point out specific ways your child's school is practicing safety. Examples may include locked doors, the intercom system, requiring entrance only through the front office, safety drills and increased security. 

It's also important to talk with them about the importance of speaking up when something seems off or amiss at school, in their community and even online no matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time. They should especially report any threats of violence or mental health issues that they witness.

Limit Exposure to Media and News Reports

Consuming large amounts of information about school shootings can be very detrimental to children and teens. In fact, it often elevates anxieties and fears, making it much harder for them to feel any level of comfort in attending school on a regular basis.

It may be smart to turn off the news when your kids are around. The constant reminders of school shootings will not help their situation. Instead, acknowledge the news reports and encourage a family discussion about the situation. Strategize ways in which they can stay safe in a similar situation and allow them to talk about their concerns that it could happen at their school. The key is to keep the dialogue open but not to make school shootings the topic of every family conversation.

Stick to Your Routine

Structure and routines—including attending school—give kids a sense of security and predictability, according to experts at the American School Counselor Association. In fact, you want to avoid keeping your kids home from school because of your fears or concerns of a school shooting. Doing so, will just heighten their fears and anxieties about school shootings and make it that much more difficult to return to school later.

As hard as it may be, it is important to send your child to school on a consistent basis. Likewise, don't change your plans after school because it is such a sad day. Sticking to your plans will help your kids feel that the world is still what they know it to be. This also helps foster resilience in your kids. 

Find a Way to Take Action

For some people, including children and teens, taking action after a tragedy like a school shooting cultivates a sense of control. As a result, strategize with your kids ways you can work together to address the issue.

For instance, you could work together to raise money for the families of the school shooting victims. Or your kids could write supportive, encouraging letters to the teachers and students where the school shooting took place.

Not only do these actions show those impacted that you care about them, but it helps the letter writer learn how to express empathy. For parents of older children and teens, you could consider joining a protest together or attending a rally for political reform. Taking steps like these not only helps your kids feel empowered, but it also helps them see that they can impact the world around them.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, compulsive thoughts about school violence that last more than a few days may be signs of deeper mental health issues. Contact your healthcare provider or a mental health professional for guidance if your child's fears seem excessive or interfere with his day-to-day life. 

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View Article Sources
  • Helping Kids After a Shooting, American School Counselor Association. https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/shooting-resources
  • Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a School Shooting, American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx