How to Talk to Your Kids About Tennessee’s Tragic School Shooting

People pay their respects at an entry to The Covenant School that has become a memorial for victims, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Six people were fatally shot at the school the day before. (AP Photo/John Amis)

By The Keystone Staff

March 29, 2023

It doesn’t matter if your kids are toddlers, elementary-age students, or tweens/teens in middle or high school. It can be hard to talk to them about what happened in Tennessee, no matter how old they are.

In the wake of the tragic Nashville shooting, families across the commonwealth are figuring out how to best talk about this horrific event with their children. Feelings of grief, anger, hopelessness, and sadness can overpower and overwhelm even the strongest person, because we are all human. Sometimes, it’s hard to talk about those overwhelming emotions, especially in the wake of another senseless act of gun violence.

For kids of all ages, Look Through Their Eyes is an excellent resource for parents to read up on how to get conversations started, because children might not be able to properly verbalize their trauma, or might not even realize that they’re processing a traumatic event. The website provides a resource for parents to try and visualize a perspective through the eyes of their children.

No matter what age a child is, they might need to take more time to feel safe enough or to feel brave enough to respond to any questions you might have for them when a tragedy is in the news. It’s important not to press them to open up if they aren’t ready to talk about it. It’s also important to just be there for your child with a calming presence. 

For Younger Children

For younger children who might not comprehend everything that’s happening, you may choose to share the truth in the simplest way possible—but remember that it’s important to help them feel safe after hearing that information: safe with you, safe with their grandparents, safe with their teachers, and safe with other friends and loved ones who make their well-being a priority. Safety is paramount for toddlers and preschool-age children.

Remember Fred Rogers? Most of us knew the beloved television personality from his children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which started airing in 1968. But perhaps his most famous quote comes from a 1983 book, Mister Rogers Talks With Parents, where he recalled encountering scary things in the news as a boy. 

His mother advised: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

While Rogers passed away in 2003, a spin-off show featuring characters from his beloved neighborhood now airs on PBS Kids. It’s called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and follows the once-puppet in an animated, musical format.

Starring the four-year-old tiger, the series is geared toward children two to four years old and offers a common early learning theme in each episode. Oftentimes, the themes deal with intense emotions, like disappointment, anger, or sadness. In one particular episode after a storm hits the neighborhood, viewers hear the famous words uttered by Rogers’ mother, but set to music. 

“When things seem sad or scary, look for the helpers,” the characters sing throughout the episode. 

In addition, PBS offers a solid resource for parents of younger children to help them cope with tragic events in the news, featuring Daniel Tiger. The channel’s resources also include information from the Fred Rogers Institute, because Mister Rogers can serve as a comforting face for parents and kids alike in a time of tragedy.

Some additional resources to look into come from just down the street—123 Sesame Street, to be exact. In a video, “Sesame Street In Communities” tackles the issue of children impacted by gun violence in their own neighborhoods.

Elmo has a conversation with his dad, Louie, where he expresses concern for a classmate who hid in a corner after hearing a loud noise. Louie notes that the student lives in an area where loud sounds can sometimes mean someone is hurt. He expressed the importance of having people surround the friend who will help keep him safe, like family members and people in his neighborhood.

“Everyone, everywhere deserves to feel safe,” Louie says. 

The Muppet Rosita appears in a clip developed by Sesame Workshop in partnership with The Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG). The video is designed to let kids know that emergency responders are “helpers.” 

In the 80-second clip, Rosita hears sirens and expresses concern to her mother about a nearby emergency. Her mother, Rosa, acknowledges the concerns and also offers helpful information about people who go to emergencies to help, including firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, and other emergency responders. That clicks with Rosita. 

“Sirens are really the sounds of help on the way,” the younger Muppet says.

For Older Children

Perhaps your child is the same age as the nine-year-olds who lost their lives in Tennessee, or they’re middle/high school age like the kids in Parkland, Florida. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Scholastic’s Junior Scholastic magazine, geared towards middle school-aged children, wrote about how a younger generation has been crying for change. The generation that’s speaking up now about how things should change are filled with youths who’ve grown up with active shooter drills in their schools becoming as routine as fire drills.

Scholastic Choices, a resource for older teenagers, put together a Q&A with a trauma specialist from the Child Mind Institute, Dr. Jamie Howard, on how to cope with traumatic events.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a comprehensive guide on how to help young children heal after a crisis, keeping SAFETY in mind. The guide is also available in Spanish, keeping SEGURO in mind.

Ultimately, when caring for your children and their emotions in the wake of a traumatic event, it’s also important to care for your own emotions and mental well-being. Be sure to take time out for yourself to also process your own grief and trauma in the wake of a painful and difficult news cycle.

If you’re the parent of a child in Virginia and you want to talk, we’re here to listen. You can always send over questions, comments, and concerns to us here at the Keystone by emailing us at [email protected] and [email protected].


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