5 Ways Parents Can Talk To Kids About The Kentucky School Shooting

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talk to kids about school shootings

Advice for parents during any school shooting.

The shooting at Marshall County High School is personal for me.  

As a mother, therapist and the granddaughter of a Benton, Kentucky native, this hit home. My home. I was in Benton this weekend to celebrate the life of my grandmother and to grieve my loss. You see, Benton, KY is not a big town, nor is it a destination in travel guides, but it was the most magical place I could imagine as a child. Every summer for a month I would live on my grandparents’ farm and I would learn the art of farming, caring for cattle and riding ATVs. I had more adventures in this small world than I have had in many of the places I’ve traveled in the world. This town is sheltered in many ways; for instance, it was a dry country until 2015. It has been a safe haven for me.

So the other morning, as I sat down to write down my memories of being a young girl living a "farm-life", I was stunned to see a message from my cousin in Benton that read, "My kids are okay."

 I thought, "Huh...that's weird." I began looking on the internet and then my stomach sank. My heart froze as I learned that there was a school shooting just a mile from where I grew up. My father and most of my relatives in Benton graduated from Marshall County High School. My bubble burst...this place that I love so much is not safe as I once believed it was. It really can happen anywhere.

RELATED: Sad New Details Revealed About The Kentucky Teen Who Opened Fire On His High School And Killed Two Of His Classmates

As I often do when I am scared, I put on my "therapist hat," and began to try to make sense of this event and to "manage it" from afar. It's laughable, however, because I know I have no control over any of this, yet I still attempt to manage it. 

I began reaching out to family and friends to see if everyone was safe. Images of the victims, my farm and even the shooter and his family kept swirling in my mind. As a child and family therapist, I know what it is like to work with families in their darkest hours. I know what trauma does to the body and mind. Learning of this shooting felt more like a "call to action" for me than anything I've felt in a long time. My community and family are hurting.

 I know how to help children and families through tough situations, so this more than anything is a time for me to share what I know.

Here are 5 ways to talk to your kids about the Kentucky shooting and help them cope with the news of any shooting that may arise:

1. Center yourself:

Before you talk to your child about the shooting, first take care of yourself. I'm serious. Ask yourself, "Have I eaten? Have I taken care of my own basic needs? Can I do anything else for myself before I talk about this topic?"

2. Invite an open-ended conversation:

Ask your child if they would like to talk about their thoughts about the recent events. Allow them space to talk. The goal of this conversation is to allow them to share anything.  

RELATED: How To Tell Your Kids About Mass Shootings Without Scaring Them

3. Provide (age-appropriate) Information: 

Try to remain calm as you relay information to their questions. Be mindful of how much information your child can handle.

4. Provide reassurance and safety: 

Parents are the holders of security for children. So this is why it is so important you care for yourself first — because it's likely your child needs you to be strong right now. Support your child if they want to go to a vigil (if you think it is safe) or give them the freedom to skip it because it may be too overwhelming.  

5. Limit Media:  

When we are traumatized by a situation, our minds can relive it over and over. Therefore, it is advisable that you limit how much your child is engaging with this topic, especially if the information is sensationalized or especially scary. Turn off your devices and be together.

There is so much more I could write about this topic, but for now I will leave you with this: 

As parents, we set the tone for how our children view and make sense of the world. It can be a daunting task when we do not have the answers as to "why" something happens in life. Instead of pressuring yourself to have all the answers, I encourage you to be vulnerable and present with your kids as you talk about this act of violence.

Related: 9 Brave Ways To Talk To Your Kids About Cruelty And Violence

Kristen Mennona is a licensed professional counselor, a board certified dance/movement therapist, a certified eating disorder specialist (CEDS), and a certified specialist in pediatric OCD. You can find her at Nurture Family Counseling.