How parents and caregivers can talk to children about school shootings

In the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting, many parents aren’t sure how to explain what happened to their kids. Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist and the author of "Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls," joins Ali Rogin to discuss how to have those difficult conversations.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    In light of this past week's horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, parents are once again faced with the agonizing task of explaining violence and tragedy to their kids. Correspondent Ali Rogin sat down with an expert who shared advice on how to have these difficult conversations.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Joining me now is Lisa Damour. She's a clinical psychologist and the author of "Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls."

    Lisa, thank you so much for joining us. What are some of the concerns that you've heard parents talk about when it comes to talking with their kids about traumatic events like the one in Texas?

  • Lisa Damour, Clinical Psychologist:

    I think parents really struggle to know what to say, what to ask their children whether or not they should even bring it up? How to answer the very hard questions that children often ask at times like this, I think that it makes it extraordinarily hard when events like what happened in Texas occur and parents want to be supportive of their children. And yet, they often don't know what to say.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And what's some of the language that you would suggest a parent use with a very young child like five or six years old, versus that of a teenager.

  • Lisa Damour:

    So if a child is very young and not going to school, I think that parents should do what they can to shield their child from the events that have occurred. That also means not having the television running at home, you know, listening to the radio on their own time. As soon as children are of school age, we do need to bring it up, because the chance that they're going to hear about it from their peers is very high. And so we'd really rather they hear about it first from us.

    So I think for school aged children, we need to say something horrible happened. And I want you to feel you can ask me any questions you have.

    Once we get to teenagers, and anyone of an age where they have their own social media or their own access to, you know, all sorts of feeds, we probably want to start by asking them what they are hearing what they know what they think. Teenagers are very heavily involved in a discourse of their own, they are talking to one another. And so we don't want to assume that we have information that they don't have, we want to start by finding out what they already know.

  • Ali Rogin:

    What about for those, especially for those younger children, that's really hard questions like why would someone want to hurt a child?

  • Lisa Damour:

    I think it is fair for parents to say, that is a really good question. And to tell you the truth, it's very hard for me to understand. So the fact that you are struggling to understand this isn't because you're young, it's because it's one of those things that's really hard to understand. Parents can say that and most children will accept that. We just want to be honest. But we also don't want to sugarcoat what we're looking at here.

  • Ali Rogin:

    What are some strategies for navigating a child's feeling about whether they themselves are safe at school?

  • Lisa Damour:

    Parents have to figure out where they sit on this themselves. But if they do feel that they can say to their child, I would not send you to school if I did not think you were safe, then I think they should say that because children need our reassurance along those lines.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And then on the flip side of that, once the children are inside the school, a lot of them these days are dealing with active shooter drills. How does that affect when they do hear about these mass shooting events?

  • Lisa Damour:

    I think what you're getting at really points to a larger issue, which is, even for people who are not directly affected by these shootings, there's a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological tax for them to be happening around us and for us to have to try to prepare for them and prepare our children for them.

  • Ali Rogin:

    What is your advice for teachers as they navigate the aftermath of these horrific tragedies?

  • Lisa Damour:

    You know, teachers are in such an extraordinarily difficult position, because of course, I can't imagine a teacher who doesn't worry for their own safety, when they're just doing their job, doing this incredibly important job. But teachers are also there to support their students. And so they are really caught between their own intense reaction which I'm sure they have, and needing to and wanting to be reassuring to their students be supportive of their students. And I think that that puts an extraordinarily heavy weight on them. And this is on top of all of the challenges they have born through the pandemic.

    So what I would say is that we as a society need to go out of our way to support our teachers. They have been through so much. They have given so much. And we never want to lose sight of that.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And what about a parent or guardians own emotions? How important do you find the state of mind of the adult when having these conversations?

  • Lisa Damour:

    This is hard, because of course, as parents, we are terrified by this. So, we need to find ways to manage our own reaction. It is OK if our children see us being upset. I think the goal then is for them to see us handling it well, taking comfort talking about, you know, what we can do to help ourselves feel better.

    But I think if parents are really struggling with this, they're going to want to get some support for themselves so that they can then be there to support their children.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Clinical psychologist and author Lisa Damour, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Lisa Damour:

    Thank you for having me.

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