After the recent shooting at the Uvalde elementary school and the passing of new gun regulations, tensions are high around the issue of gun control in our nation. Concerned parents find themselves on both ends of the debate, and emotions rise as the issue feels very personal and close to home for those with littles.
However, when we let our emotions get out of hand with people we disagree with, this can lead to division and further heartache, instead of a solution.
How can we move forward from this tragedy in a healthy way, holding our opinions but not letting them divide us from others who are after the same thing: safety for our children? We need to learn how to deal with our intense emotions in a healthy way, talk to our kids about what happened, and focus on safety going forward.
Managing Intense Emotions
Emotions are what make us human––they are how we connect with the world and the people around us, and can be very useful tools. They bring awareness to important situations and help us take action when we need to. But too much emotion can also sabotage us, when it becomes dysregulated, or out of balance.
For example, in the case of the school shooting, it is healthy and normal to experience some fear and anxiety over the situation, especially if you have young children. It is also healthy and normal to experience anger.
However, if you notice your anxiety and/or anger is growing and causes you to act in ways you don’t really want to, such as yelling at someone who disagrees with you about gun control, then your emotions have become dysregulated and are short-circuiting your behavior.
This is the time when you need to step back and assess yourself, and perhaps talk through some of your feelings with a trained therapist. Try to remember that even if someone disagrees with you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have the same end goal––just a different way of going about it.
Talking to Your Kids
It can be difficult to know how to talk to your kids about what happened, but it is an important step in healing and moving forward as a family, especially if you have been significantly distressed over the events. Kids pick up on our emotions, and want to know what’s going on.
Depending on the age of your kids, you have to use discretion with what you say to them. A very small child will not understand so you may forgo telling them until they are older. For older children, tell them candidly about what happened but do not go into vivid detail––just stick with the basics. Answer any questions they have and be sure to comfort and reassure them.
It is important to talk about it as a family before your kids hear about it from other kids at school or online. If they hear it from you first in a safe and loving environment, they will be more equipped to talk about it in a mature manner if it comes up with their friends, and not take information out of context.
Focusing on Safety
Instead of focusing on how other people are wrong about their views, we need to shift our focus to working together to keep our kids safe. While we can’t immediately resolve gun control laws, we can work to make sure our home environments are safe, and decide how our kids will do school.
If you keep a firearm in your home, be sure to keep it locked and hidden at all times from your children, with the ammunition locked and hidden elsewhere. Make sure that this is also the protocol of any parents of the child who’s house your child plays at.
As far as school goes, you get to decide as the parent how your kids will receive schooling. You can choose a school that you feel comfortable sending them to, have them do online school, or even homeschool. You don’t have to send them to a school you don’t feel is safe.
If you are unable to change schools but feel that their current school is unsafe, you can work with the school board to implement new safety protocols and policies should there be an active shooter or any other danger.
There are many changes we can make now to help keep our kids safer.
The Road Forward
It’s hard to bounce back from something as horrendous as school shootings, but we have to take care not to let these tragic events make us bitter or spiteful towards others, or let our anxiety run rampant.
We need to lean into our families and our larger community––to band together united. We all love our kids and want to keep them safe.
The DBT Training Manual
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology