BOZEMAN - The Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas brings light to whether or not parents should be talking to their kids about school shootings.
On Wednesday, Bozeman Schools Superintendent Casey Bertram sent a letter to parents in the letter he offered support for parents on how to talk to their kids regarding national issues like mass shootings.
Jenna Eisenhart a School-Based and Social Services director at Shodair Children’s Hospital says these conversations are important.
“Sometimes I hear that we shouldn't talk to our kids about these things right and create unnecessary anxiety but our kids are already doing active shooter drills in school right? The topic is already out there,” says Eisenhart “It is helpful to have these conversations with kids, but how we do that and what we say, kind of really depends on the age of the child and some of their temperament and personality.”
For parents who decide to talk to their kids, Eisenhart offers some suggestions for parents.
“I think what is really important is that the parent is calm and emotionally regulated during those conversations,” says Eisenhart.
When it comes to having these conversations with younger kids, tread carefully.
“The American Psychiatric Association recommends actually avoiding tragedy topics with kids under the age of 8, especially if those kids are not directly impacted,” says Eisenhart. “For the pre-k and under, if we do need to talk to them about it, it’s in very simple and easy-to-understand words like a sentence.”
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She says the best way to talk with the younger kids is to focus on the positives like the heroes, like teachers, first responders, and other students. Once you start getting to older kids, her best piece of advice is to be ready for questions.
“They are going to ask a lot more questions, typically why questions. So parents before engaging in those conversations should think about what exactly they want to answer because they don't necessarily need to know all of the details,” says Eisenhart.
She says for parents with younger teenagers, be curious and comfortable asking questions.
“So a really good place to start is just asking if they have heard about what happened, and if they have heard about what happened is asking how they feel about it,” says Eisenhart.
For older teenagers, she says actions may mean more than words.
“Typically our older teens are social justice-oriented and very invested in moving out into the world and how they are going to change the world and things like this can feel very disempowering for older teens,” says Eisenhart. “One thing that is helpful for older teens is to help empower them to figure out what they can do about it and what is in their circle of control.”
She hopes that mental health topics become a forefront topic for families.
“I would love for mental health to be more normalized to talk about at the dinner table, and then what we do about it and coping skills,” says Eisenhart.