ASU expert explains how to talk to kids about school shootings

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The state of school shootings around the country, including the most recent attack at a Michigan high school that killed 4-students and injured 7-others, can lead to children experiencing a variety of anxious feelings. How best can we “talk” to kids about those feelings? For that we spoke to Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, of ASU’s Sanford school of Sociology and Family Dynamics.

Johnson said the conversation itself is extremely difficult to bring up to students.

“One of the ways it’s made difficult is you’re never prepared for that conversation, so most of the times when this happens the news will come on it will have been on in the background, it will be on the radio, older kids maybe they’ve seen it on their news feed on their cell phone, you get popped with that question of ‘hey, am I safe at school?'” Johnson said.

Johnson says the best way to handle this is to find the space to have this difficult conversation instead of getting distracted by other factors.

“Make a concerted effort to have this conversation, focus it around emotion. A lot of times as parents we want the right answer and we don’t always, and this is one of those cases where we don’t always know why we want to do our best. The best we can do is understand our child’s emotions and what they’re feeling,” Johnson said.

Johnson said to be aware of children’s emotions is to be aware of their children’s behavior, and to take note of any subtle changes that may be cues for prompting a discussion.

If a conversation may be too disruptive, Johnson encourages parents to reach out to school resources for children’s mental health and wellness.

Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, associate professor ASU

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