Texas School Shooting: Concrete Ways to Help Kids Cope

The Texas school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, has left at least 19 children and 2 teachers dead. While the surviving students will have much to deal with in the coming days and even years, children throughout Texas will be frightened and traumatized. It doesn’t stop, of course, with those in the Lone Star State. Children and parents in every part of the United States will have much to process as images are splashed across their multiple screens and social media outlets. Parents can offer concrete ways to help kids cope, including frank, open-ended discussion about the Texas tragedy, and helping to arrange a small, creative memorial service for the victims.

The emotional repercussions surrounding a school shooting are bound to be difficult. Children may be afraid to leave the house, unable to sleep, and obsessing over their social media feeds. Perhaps the worst of the fallout is the fear that is now associated with going to school, which is supposed to be a safe space for young students. COVID lockdowns are over, but the big sigh of relief that came with going back into the classroom, appears to have been short-lived. Kids may even play sick in order to stay home.

It is natural for children to want to shrink the boundaries of where they feel comfortable, to a smaller, safer space, for instance home. They may even want to confine themselves to their bedrooms, with the door locked, and perhaps some music blaring in the background. It’s an effective way to shut out the world, even if kids cannot help but refresh their Insta over and over again, to see fresh images and responses to the Texas elementary school shooting.

As parents, we have a responsibility to help our kids find productive ways to deal with their fear and grief. We can’t erase what has happened. We can only help with the aftermath. Part of the job is coaxing them out of their rooms and widening the perimeters of where they feel safe. The remaining tasks are to get them back into the classroom and to offer strategies for processing this horrific event.

texas school shooting collage

Texas School Shooting: Frank, Open-Ended Discussion

The overwhelming use of technology by children means that parents have no way to shield them from the news. We have no way to counter the effects of newscasters who prey on our emotions for the sake of ratings, and no way to stop people from sharing images that should never be shared, let alone seen by children. What parents can do is help children speak about what they are feeling as they hear and watch things play out on their screens. Talk about what affected you most about the shooting, and then ask your child to describe their own reactions. Keep the conversation going by checking in with your child morning, noon, and night, opening the discussion in the same way, each time, and then again the next morning.

Watch your child’s face and listen to how they respond. If it seems like they are on the edge of getting annoyed, drop it, and wait for another time or day to resume the discussion. Let your child be the guide of when to talk, and what does and doesn’t seem okay to talk about.

Texas school shooting teacher
When a teacher is killed, children can feel lost inside

Help Plan a Memorial Service

Your child may not live in Texas or know the victims, yet feel a need to mark the loss of life, and acknowledge the pain of the survivors. Offer to help your child plan a memorial service, with specific suggestions. You might, for example, ask your child to get together a group of friends to discuss ideas for remembering the awful event and those affected. Volunteer your assistance. You may need to purchase items such as signboards, markers, flowers, and teddy bears, or drive the kids to a special place to create a roadside or other outdoor or indoor memorial.

It is possible that children will want to do something small at home. They may want to do a craft, for instance a plaque with photos or names of those who lost their lives. This is something they can hang in a prominent space on a living room or bedroom wall. A visible reminder is a productive means for a young person to process feelings on a continuing basis.

If the memorial is to be outside of the home, help your child find out if permission is needed. Lend your hand in doing whatever necessary to make it happen. All of this shows your child that the event and finding a way to deal with the emotional aftereffects are important for you, as well. Your child wants to know that these feelings and needs are appropriate and right. Offering your help is a way to validate your child’s response to the tragedy in Texas.

texas school shooting mother
Children see images of parents in pain, and imagine themselves and their parents in their stead

Hold Hands as you Walk Your Child into the Classroom

It may take some time before your child is ready to leave the bedroom or your home. Be understanding. Take off work if you can to be near your child, even if they are in their bedroom and you are elsewhere in the house. Don’t push the child to return before they feel ready. Speak to the teacher and ask if your child can keep up with assignments at home until they are ready to come back.

When your child feels ready to try, drive them to school. Take your child’s hand and walk the child into the classroom, if the school permits. Let your child know they can call you any time, and that you will be waiting for them at the end of the school day. Over time, it is likely your child will let you know they are okay going to school on their own. Every child, however, has their own schedule, and there may be ups and downs. Be patient and flexible.

Things will get better. They must. And your child will learn that you will always be there to offer your support and your love, even during the most difficult times there can be.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.