Just a few days before the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, I got a text message from my 11-year-old son in the middle of the day — somewhat unusual, since he knows he’s not supposed to text during school.
“I’m OK right now,” it read, “but I’m in a lockdown, and if worse comes to worst I love you.”
I had to read the message a few times before the words actually made sense. When they did, my head spun, I felt cold and hot all over, and I had to lean against a wall to steady myself.
For the next 2 hours, I waited for official updates from his school, my stomach knotting and churning all the while.
My son and I established, over a flurry of text messages, that he was safe in a classroom “with advantages for escape” and mostly feeling calm. He joked about the lockdown possibly being due to a bear visiting the school grounds.
Still, I could tell he was scared. He asked me to give each of our pets “lots of love” from him and warned me not to call, just in case.
Turns out, the school went into lockdown after some students reported that another student had brought a gun to school. It ended up being a rumor — I’m extremely fortunate my son never faced any real danger.
Later, when we talked through the day, he said he hadn’t wanted me to worry about him. I assured him he’d done just the right thing texting me, no matter how frightened I’d been.
I didn’t detail in words exactly what I had feared, but I also didn’t hold back. I reminded him it was OK to feel scared, upset, even angry, and that talking about those feelings could help us work through them.
Parents have to face the reality of school shootings every day
The experience drove home the current nightmarish reality of parenting in the United States: Sending a child to school each morning means acknowledging the chance they won’t come home.
To add to the nightmare, children have to face that reality themselves each time they run through an active shooter drill or learn about the most recent school shooting.
If you think that sounds overly dramatic, consider this:
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that firearm-related injuries had overtaken traffic accident injuries to become the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.
That means more U.S. children (anyone between the ages of 1 and 19) die by acts of gun violence than by any other cause of death, including:
- car crashes
- drug overdose or poisoning
- illness or accidental injury
In the face of data like that, how are you supposed to hide your fear, frustration, and anger in front of your kids when news of yet another school shooting breaks? I argue that you shouldn’t keep those emotions to yourself — and experts largely agree.
Why sharing your emotions can have benefit
My kid reacts easily to stressors, feels injustice deeply, and quickly picks up on tension and excitement. In short, he’s pretty sensitive.
Children can be fairly perceptive, and they often notice more than you realize — especially when it comes to your own thoughts and emotions.
If you’re anything like me, you want to shield your child from unnecessary pain and distress and protect them — as much as possible — from frightening or upsetting experiences. So, when you despair over world events and begin to lose hope that things will ever improve, you might instinctively try to keep those feelings to yourself.
But when you try to smooth over your emotions, saying, “I’m fine,” “Don’t worry, or “Everything will be OK,” you do yourself and your child a disservice.