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Experts: How to address gun violence with kids

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Posted at 6:14 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 22:29:21-04

Families in Texas are dealing with the unimaginable but an event like the mass shooting in Uvalde on Tuesday creates a ripple effect throughout the country. Thousands of students here on the Central Coast woke up for school and were met with a very difficult conversation.

A question in the forefront of many parents' minds: how do you find the words to verbalize the unspeakable to a child, a tragedy that even adults are grappling to fully fathom? Experts like Shawn Ison, Family Services Program Manager for Transitions-Mental Health Association, say the best approach is to be cautious with details.

"You really try to focus on the positives and give those heroes of the story but ask them how they feel about it. I think that’s the most important part — really listen and acknowledge their feelings, give validity to their feelings," Ison said.

This tragedy has reignited the fear that many parents live with each day as they drop their kid off at school. We live in a reality where schools now have active shooter drills, a necessary preparation educators wish they didn’t need.

"Those emotions that could come along even though it is a drill and it's not real, those emotions that come with it for students and staff are very real," said Bree Valla, Lompoc Unified School District Deputy Superintendent.

Professionals say to use this event as a gateway to a bigger conversation. As a parent, there’s little you can do during a crisis but you can do something before.

"Get ahold of those school plans so they can walk through those plans and know their part of that. Be proactive about what are your plans in place and how can we support that," Ison said.

Since the pandemic, the Lompoc Unified School District has added 16 new counselors to its staff who are ready to respond to any anxieties that arise from this situation. Their approach is to let the conversation happen organically.

"We don’t want to introduce those topics if they’re not needed but we did send out resources to families and staff so that they have it so that if students want to have those conversations, they’re equipped," Valla said.

When that conversation inevitably occurs, mental health professionals advise parents to be as honest as possible, but remember every child is different and to gauge your child’s ability to hear that information.

In the wake of this tragedy, Lompoc Unified sent out information to all families including links to talking points that you can use to have a conversation about school violence in a way that doesn’t bring on anxiety.