How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings

School - Classroom

Yesterday I was able to celebrate a milestone in my daughter’s life that countless parents in Uvalde, TX never will—and it absolutely crushes my heart. 

When I learned of the massacre, I was at a mall with my oldest daughter celebrating her birthday (she is the same age and grade as those viciously attacked at Robb Elementary School). I was watching her in absolute amazement, savoring every detail—her smile, the sound of her laughter, and her unbridled joy—when my phone started buzzing with texts about the breaking news in Texas. Immediately my heart sank and I was flooded with a thousand raw emotions, inconsolable tears, and unrelenting questions . . .

When will this end? And why does this keep happening again and again?

My name is Crystal Woodman Miller and I am a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. For years since that tragedy, I have shared my experience and offered support to other mass school shooting victims and communities. With each new story unfolding in the news, my heart breaks again and again. This is not okay . . . this is not the way it’s supposed to be. 

We cry out to God in our agony, watching violence ravage our grocery stores, churches, theaters, malls, concert venues, and schools. Security, innocence, and the carefree joy our kids should be experiencing are being threatened. It’s only natural to feel anger, rage, confusion, worry, apathy, longing, grief, and hopelessness. 

How do We Respond as Parents and Jesus-Followers?

In times like these, we recognize how fragile our humanity is—and it’s uncomfortable—therefore at times, we’d rather not feel, so we look for ways to escape, medicate, and hide. Believe me, I get it. But what if our pain, suffering, and grief could move us toward action? 

I don’t mean political action, though that has its place. This post isn’t about gun control or mental health awareness and support. This post is about what needs to happen first, inside our homes following a tragedy like this one. 

How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings

Be present.

Children need our presence. Children need us to come close and spend time with them, they may need a reassuring hug or snuggle. Children need to be seen, heard, and acknowledged in their sadness, worries, and fears. They need a healthy and safe place to ask tough questions, process, and navigate their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgment. 

  • Start by helping your kids feel safe and secure—right here, right now. 
  • Spend time with your kids doing something they enjoy, which often leads to some really deep conversations about life and faith. 
  • Talk less, listen more. Let your kids’ questions lead the conversation. Listen without fear or judgment and respond with age-appropriate answers in honesty and authenticity. Remember: you don’t have to (and won’t) have all the answers and that’s okay!
  • Teach your children their emotions matter but do not get to control them. Help them find healthy ways to work through their emotions (ex. breathing techniques, and finding ways to ground themselves).
  • Find resources or a counselor/therapist who can help if your kids are having trouble with fear and anxiety or are lacking the ability to cope. 

Point your kids to Jesus.

Kids need the hope that Jesus alone offers. They need to know that even when the world around them feels shaky, there is a God who will steady them, carry them, and guide them.  Psalm 16:8 (NIV) says, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” This is also a powerful reminder for us as parents, who may need to steady our hearts in the midst of such grief and the fear it can bring.

  • Remember: How we respond will become a model for our children when they walk through their own times of difficulty and suffering.
  • When they come to you with fear or worry, start with Jesus! Let His love and God’s Word be your guide.

Read God’s Word.

One of the greatest tools we have to walk through difficult times is the Word of God! We must look to His truth, and teach our children to do the same. When we know His Word, we can pray it back to Him and believe that He is faithful to do what He has promised. 

Bible Verses to Reflect on During Times of Fear and Tragedy

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. Psalms 46:1-2 ESV

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 NIV

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

Pray Together.

Not only do we pray for the families who have lost loved ones, we pray for survivors and a community torn apart by violence. We pray no one ever has to experience something like this again and we pray with and over our kids, their schools, as well as their teachers, administrators, and political leaders navigating life and policy after tragedy. We get to partner with our kids in moving the heart of God, and then celebrate His faithfulness together when we see a shift in ourselves or the world around us! 

Act.

After we’ve spent time reorienting our tired and broken hearts toward Jesus, we will be better equipt to take action—at the very least to love on those affected by acts of violence but perhaps also on a larger level as God leads us.

  • Find opportunities and outlets to let them get involved if your children are passionate about using their voice and helping enact change.
  • Stay connected to your community—surround your kids with other trusted grownups and families that share your heart for promoting the love and peace of Jesus.
  • Model fearless living so your kids know they don’t have to live afraid.  

. . . . . . . . . .

This is not easy, and not something we naturally know how to or want to do, but He is with you in every conversation.

I will leave you with this Bible verse to encourage your heart as you stand on the front lines of the battle for your kids’ physical and emotional safety.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV

. . . . . . . . . .

Crystal Woodman Miller is an author, speaker, Columbine shooting survivor, mental health advocate, and warrior of hope who encourages others in the challenges they face. She’s also the creative director of making magical memories for her three kids and husband and attempts to love others like she has been loved by God.

Crystal’s book, A Kids Book About School Shootings.