Don’t avoid talking to your kids about school shootings for fear of giving them anxiety, but do be prepared to offer up some coping strategies.
“It’s such a common question: ‘Am I causing more distress?” notes Dr. Berkowitz. “They may get distressed, but it’s even more distressing when it goes ignored.”
If it’s on your kid’s mind, it’s worth talking about. But if they seem to be preoccupied with the subject of school shootings, one thing Dr. Berkowitz recommends is teaching them focused breathing exercises.
Focused breathing exercises involve paying attention to each inhale and exhale, and there are a surprising number of ways to do this.
A basic breathing exercise involves counting to four as you inhale, holding your breath for a count of four, and exhaling as you count to four again. Variations include breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, skipping the “hold your breath” step, or exhaling for a longer count than the inhale. Your child can count to whatever number feels comfortable—it’ll vary from person to person and situation to situation.
To help your kids settle into the exercise, have them trace a shape like a triangle, star, or square as they inhale, hold, and exhale. Have them imagine blowing bubbles—or make it fun by practicing with real bubbles. Kids can also imagine smelling a flower, blowing out a candle, or blowing up a balloon.1
My personal favorite breathing exercise involves snuggling up to my dogs and matching their breaths as they snooze, or taking one deep breath for every two of theirs.