EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Talking to your kids about school threats is not easy, but experts say it is important. You need to know how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
Naturally these threats are more difficult for young kids to process. That's because they are only catching pieces of information they cannot fully understand.
Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation Neuroeducation Director Susan Phelps says kids experience what is called cognitive distortions. They twist and hold on to what they hear.
Help your kids by asking questions. It is that open dialogue that comforts them. Also, ask your kids what makes them feel safe.
Reassure them trusted adults are doing more than they know to keep them safe. Phelps says kids can feel empowered by talking through a plan for if they feel unsafe. The hardest tip, Phelps says, is limiting social media.
"This is really true for young kids. Turn it off as much as possible. The younger the kids are, sometimes each news event, each news piece they hear can feel like a new event. They may not realize it's the same event that's replaying. For older kids what you can do is actually watch the news with them, turn it off, and then have a conversation. Then you have the opportunity to model your emotions," says Phelps.
Mental Health America of Vanderburgh County has tips for parents on how to raise mentally strong kids. Executive Director Emily Reidford says they are important to start with your kids even before they are old enough to go to school.
Laying the building blocks for resiliency is key to raising competent adults. That way, when your kids are faced with difficult emotions, they will know how to handle them.
Reidford encourages age appropriate honesty. Ask your kids what they know. Then fill in the gaps with facts. Know what drills they are practicing in school. And, if an emotionally straining event happens, like a threat at their school, bring life back to normal quickly and calmly. It is a time for parents to model positive coping strategies for fear and anxiety.
"When you go back to school if you are feeling anxious, who can you talk to at school? A teacher, a guidance counselor, a social worker at school. You can always talk at home if that's necessary. If you're in the classroom when you start to feel anxious there are certain techniques that you can use to help calm yourself down," says Reidford.
Techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation exercises are great because they are discrete.
Many parents are struggling with what to do about their kids' safety with all these threats circulating right now.
Newburgh mother Crystal Hebner says, "Do I rush and go get him? Do I keep him safe? Is he safer here in my arms as opposed to at school?"
It is not always easy to make those decisions or to talk to your kids about what is going on. You may not be able to completely shield your kids from the threat of school shootings, but you can arm them in other ways, with knowledge. Experts say keep sight of your values.
"Kids look to parents and caregivers for that emotional strength and emotional stability," says Reidford.
Do not let fear dictate your choices.
"All important decision making be done with a cool head with adults who are competent to make those decisions," says Reidford.
Remember, your kids are sensitive to your reactions.
"Kids really take a lot of direction from parents' reactions, too. So constant sharing on social media we've seen, or even the comments on stories can really kind of keep that cycle going, and that ruminates with kids especially," says Reidford.
And allow kids to fail.
"Letting kids have those experiences and see that they can come out on the other side and that they can learn from them and that they've conquered that is really important later when bigger, harder things come at them," says Reidford.
Be patient with kids. They are in a different stage of cognitive development, and teenagers especially feel more intense emotions.
"We have a tendency to want to protect kids from these negative emotions and we don't give them an opportunity to talk and share, and we have to let them go through that process and sometimes be in a little bit of pain with them," says Phelps.
Forming the bond with her son early is helping Hebner. She had the safety talk with her 4th grader before his school went on lockout earlier this week. She says that is why he felt safe staying at school.
"It's knowing that we're walking in faith; we have an open communication, and if something doesn't feel right, they know to go to someone," says Hebner.
Check out the full list of tips on raising resilient kids here.