I’ve spent the past 23 years as a counselor in Nashville and yesterday was the hardest. Having to process the events of a shooting just 2 miles from my office with school-age kids was overwhelming. Some kids were terrified to go back to school, while younger kids didn’t even know about the event. One middle school child said, “I’m used to it by now. This is how I’ve grown up.”
There are varying degrees of reactions but what remains the same is fear is present in childhood due to gun violence. I am reminded that while big issues like gun laws and school security remain, the emotional needs of children are what we need to prioritize most. Their lives are the ones shaped by the violence in schools. They will grow into adults who experienced school shooter drills as the norm, as sad as that is.
Many parents contacted me yesterday about how to talk to their kids about school violence. There are many good ideas about what to say (https://pepcleve.org/news-events/how-to-talk-about-scary-events-with-young-children/) but my hope is that instead of trying to get it right during this one conversation, we will begin changing the way we talk to children about fear. Instead of holding our breath hoping something bad doesn’t happen, we can prepare them with emotional awareness and strategies to manage the world we live in. We wouldn’t expect our child to read a novel without learning the alphabet. Nor can we expect them to process a violent attack on a school building without understanding the feelings that occur inside of them.
If we can’t prevent school shootings in this country, then we must prioritize emotional prevention for our kids. We must give them the ability to identify emotions at an early age. We must teach them how to reset their brains when emotions become overwhelming. Strategies like Square Breathing and Change the Channel help kids calm their bodies and focus on positive thoughts. Having a picture of loved ones inside their desk helps kids reset their brains by changing the most powerful sense: sight. Smelling a bandana with drops of lavender oil helps kids smell something different and calm the brain.
As I dropped my son off at school yesterday, one mile from where the shooting occurred, I was reminded that I must manage my own emotions during this time. We are the barometer for our kids. The way we handle these events will shape how they handle it. This is not the world I wanted to raise my kids in. This isn’t the world I wanted to be a parent in. The one thing we can do is focus on what’s happening inside of us. I did Square Breathing on the way to my office and hoped for a peaceful day. I am hoping the same for all of you.