Talking to children about school shootings

Wednesday 25 May 2022

The news from Texas this morning regarding the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School fills us with sadness. The timing of the news coverage here in Australia coincided with many parents driving their children to school with the radio and the distressing news being heard before many parents could protectively turn down the volume.

What will our children make of this event, as they are heading to school or kindergarten or child care? Will they worry that it has happened here or that it can or will happen here?

Children make sense of their world from what they hear, see, feel and understand. They can take their cues of measuring safety and risk from the carers and others around them and look for signs and reassurances that they are safe and will be safe.

If your child has heard of this tragedy, then take some time to ask them what they heard, what are they thinking and feeling? I know many of us worry that this will introduce ideas to them that they may not have been aware of or thinking, so it is important to start little and build as you gage what they know, how they understand it and what they are feeling about it. If you know they have seen coverage on TV or heard it on the radio, then broach the topic and ask, did you hear about the school in Texas? What did you hear? And then take it from there.

Once you know their starting point of thinking, understanding and feelings, you can provide reassurance that is matched to their age, stage and personality. Let them know just where Texas is in relation to where they live, that here in Australia not as many people have access to guns. That their schools are safe places and that all schools have plans to keep everyone as safe as can be.

Be vigilant about reducing their exposure to media coverage of this tragedy. Once is enough for growing brains to have to make sense of this inexplicable horror. Be kind to yourselves too, don’t have it playing in the background today, we have all had enough to contend with over the past few years and our own resilience may be too challenged by constant exposure to the coverage, our imagining of what it must be like and the footage that can give us vision that we can’t un-see easily.

Our condolences to the bereaved families, friends and educators. 

Here are some other helpful resources on this subject:

ABC's After the Disaster episode 2

Emerging Minds and ACATLGN tip sheet: Traumatic events, the media and your child

ABC's How to cope with traumatic news – illustrated guide

NCTSN's Parent guidelines for helping youth after the recent shooting


Michelle Roberts 

Director, The Australian Child & Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network