Responding to School Violence: How to Move Forward with Your Family


Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, I’ve  been feeling out of  control and ill at ease, and I suspect I’m not alone. There’s  no way to go back  and change the outcome of that terrible day. We can’t make  those horrific,  tragic events turn out any differently. At the bottom of it all is the knowledge  that we can’t protect our kids from every dangerous thing out there in this  world—and that terrifies me. So today, I’d like to talk about what we can do as parents.

Empathy,  kindness and connection: they’re not the answer to all our problems—and I  realize our problems are extremely complex—but without them, we are lost.


“You can’t control what anyone else does. You can only  control your  response,” Debbie Pincus says in many of her articles on Empowering  Parents. Wise words that I  know to be true.

So this past Saturday, my husband and I had the hardest  conversation we’ve  ever had with our nearly 10-year-old son.  We decided it was better to give  him the  correct information about the school shooting rather than allow him to  hear  rumors from other kids on the bus or on the playground. It wasn’t an easy  decision,  and it’s one that is up to each parent—every child, and every family,  is  different.

“I think it’s important when we’re talking to younger children  about  incidents like these that we’re honest with them,” advises Janet Lehman.  “Encourage your child to ask questions and express his feelings and   thoughts. Our kids need to know there are bad people in the world who do   bad things. Keep it brief and then give them time to ask questions and voice  their  fears.”

Taking her advice to heart, we kept it short. We tried to  reassure our son  by saying that grown-ups were working hard to protect kids and  to make sure it  never happens again. And to the toughest question from our  child—“Why did he do  it?”—we responded as honestly as we could:  “No one knows for sure. He was  mentally ill.”

Many  debates have arisen since this incident, but I think something we can  all agree  on is the need for support for parents of mentally ill, defiant and  potentially  violent children and teens. There is a huge need for mental health  and support services  for both parents and kids. Again, we can’t control what  people do, but we can  control what we decide to advocate for in our  country.

So how  do we move forward as parents? “Rather  than letting anxiety take you  over, take action,” says Debbie Pincus. “Fight to  prevent these horrific events  by writing to local officials and standing up for  what you believe. Maybe by  doing this, we as a society can make some necessary  changes. Action and being  proactive will help you feel more control and therefore  less anxious—and might  result in change. This, in turn, will help our kids feel  safe and  protected.”

While  we all have our own ways of addressing this publicly, I think one  thing we can  all do is start small at home. Our answer to this tragedy is in  our everyday  response. Do we let it define us by becoming fearful and giving in  to  negativity, or do we use this event to try to make things better than they  are  now? Not to magically wipe away what happened—unfortunately, that’s   impossible—but to take a hard look at where we are  and try to improve the  way we’re doing things  in regards to mental health care and support for parents  of defiant and  potentially violent kids.

And  here’s the truth: you’ve already done something proactive by arriving  here at Empowering Parents. You’re taking some  positive control by  reading articles here to help change your kids’ difficult  behavior, talking  about your worries without fear of judgment, reading comments  from other  parents going through the same thing, and finding some potential  solutions for  your child’s behavior. As a mom myself, it’s hard to think of  anything more  important than raising my son to the best of my abilities. I know  I can’t be a  perfect parent, but I believe I’m a “good enough parent,” as James  and Janet  Lehman say—one who’s looking for answers and trying my best  (sometimes hitting  the mark, sometimes not), just like everyone else.

That  brings me back to Debbie Pincus’ advice to “control our  response.”  Small acts of kindness are a good start—something  that can  help us restore the feeling of connection to others that seems to be  sorely  lacking in our society these days. Taking it a step further, what if we were  to  create a movement of kindness? Begin by doing something for your child—notice   something good about them and express sincere admiration. Move outward and get   your kids involved. Ask them for ideas. Their creativity and willingness to   participate might surprise you. Buy a coffee for someone in line after you,   shovel your neighbor’s walk, hug a parent who’s having a rough day or for whom   this shooting incident has brought up feelings of grief. Send your child’s   teacher a note saying, “I know this must be hard for you right now, too. Thank   you for everything you do.” Reach out and form a support group for parents in   your area who are struggling with their kids’ behavior. Find ways to  connect.

I would like to end  on this note: As Rob Parker, whose daughter Emilie died  in the shooting on  Friday said so eloquently, “My  daughter would be one of the  first ones to be standing and giving support to  all the victims because that’s  the kind of kid she is. She always had something  kind to say about everybody.  We find comfort reflecting on the incredible  person Emilie was and how many  lives she was able to touch.”

Empathy,  kindness and connection: they’re not the answer to all our  problems—and I  realize our problems are extremely complex—but without them, we  are lost.

What do you  think? What needs to change, and how can we  better support each  other as parents? And what small acts of kindness would make a difference in  your home or in your community?


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