Anchorage therapist offers advice on how to talk with children about school shootings

An Anchorage therapist says it's important to talk with your children about school shootings
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 6:58 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s a topic most parents would probably prefer not to talk about, but as horrifying as a school shooting is, experts say it’s an important discussion to have with children.

Elizabeth Young-Ortiz is a licensed clinical social worker for Providence Health & Services who is based at Lake Otis Elementary School. Young-Ortiz said children are likely to have heard about school shootings and may have questions or fears they haven’t raised with their parents. She said parents shouldn’t wait for children to bring the subject up. Instead, they need to be proactive and get the conversation started.

“Sometimes we think if we don’t bring it up to kids they’re not thinking about it or they’re not aware, but they are,” said Young-Ortiz. “They just are coming up with their own story about it, so we have to make sure that we are talking to them. We’re not ruining their innocence, this stuff is happening around them, so they have to know.”

Before the talk, Young-Ortiz suggests parents take a deep breath and make an effort to remain calm so they don’t project their anxieties onto their children

“That’s part of our job as adults to know how to manage our own emotions so that we don’t hand them off to our children,” said Young-Ortiz. “It’s also okay to say to your child that you have big feelings about it. You want to validate kids’ fears. It’s okay for them to be afraid, and it’s okay for them to know that adults around them are calm and capable, but that it also can be scary.”

Young-Ortiz says parents should be prepared to answer children’s questions as best as they are able. And they should remind children that schools are filled with adults who care about them and who are working to keep them safe and “who have their best interests at heart.”

“Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in schools, that’s really true,” said Young-Ortiz. “They are full of caring adults who care an awful lot about those kids, and are doing the very best they can for them.”