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Tragedy in Texas: How to Talk to Our Children and Act on Warning Signs

Mm From Tom


Reena B. Patel (LEP, BCBA) renowned parenting and school psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of joined us live today with ways we can talk to children on the tough topic of school shootings, and top warning signs parents and our community as a whole need to look out for.

How to talk to kids about school shootings:

  • Reassure your child they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
  • Create a safe space to talk. Allow their questions to be your discussion guide as to how much information to share. Watch for any signs that they may want to talk. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an expressive modality.  Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.
  • Share in a  developmentally appropriate way.
  • Elementary school children need brief and concrete examples,  such as reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
  • Middle school children will be more likely to ask questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. Talk about what is being done in their school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
  • High school This is where your child will want to share what to do to keep their school safe. They want to feel in control and play a role in their satey. Remind them to follow school safety guidelines and how important it is to report any threats or unusual behaviors they see. Encouraging children at this age to seek out help to support their mental health needs is important too.
  • Review safety protocols. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk. Schools have safety drills that include active shooter drills.
  • Monitor emotions.  Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. Seek the help of a mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
  • Limit media coverage of these events.. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure.
  • consistent routine. Having a normal routine is reassuring.  Make sure they  get plenty of sleep, have a healthy diet, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.


The top warning signs parents and our communities need to look for:

Preschool/early elementary school years:

  • Hyperactivity/Impulsivity way beyond what the other kids are doing
  • Excessive fear, worrying, or crying
  • Extreme noncompliance, significant acting out behaviors or physical aggression.
  • Sudden decrease in school performance
  • Loss of interest in friends or favorite activities
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there

Add in other signs for pre-teen and teen years:

  • Destructive behavior, such as damaging property or setting fires
  • Constantly threatening to run away or running away, which can be a precursor to self- harm
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Rapid change in behaviors
  • Addiction to anything including violent video games, above the counter meds, substance abuse
  • Comments or writings that suggest a desire to harm himself or others (a particular individual or group)

For more on school shooting prevention