Local child psychologists have back-to-school advice for kids to feel safe post-Uvalde

‘Check your own anxiety level’
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 12:51 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - For many Central Texas School Districts, the first day of school is this week or next.

However, with the Uvalde school shooting less than three months ago, it’s still weighing heavily on the minds of local parents and caregivers.

As a result of the tragedy, child psychologist Dr. Kristy Donaldson says the ‘back-to-school’ anxiety this year is higher than normal.

“I do think that people are feeling a little more fearful, parents probably even more so than children right now,” said Donaldson. “They feel a real lack of control knowing they’re sending their child to school, knowing every once in a while something can happen that’s pretty detrimental.”

On May 24, 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Donaldson says it’s important to remember: events like that are rare.

“This gets very nerve wracking for a parent when they’re sending their child to school, especially a child who has never sent a child to school before and this is the very first time and it’s on the heels of a large school shooting like Uvalde,” said Donaldson, owner of Premier Neurofeedback and Counseling Services. “The actuality of a school shooting occurring is very minimal, the issue is that it is such a big deal when it does occur, that it scares people, rightly so, and very innocent lives are lost every time something like this happens regardless of the location that it happens in.”

While scary to think about, Donaldson says it’s crucial for parents not to let their anxiety trickle down to their children.

“Be mindful of what we’re allowing to be said and shown in front of our children,” said Donaldson. “If we are creating more anxiety by watching things, talking about them, even in ourselves, than that is the very first place that you can put a stop to it.”

Dr. Taha Ansari, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Baylor Scott & White Health agrees and says it’s important for parents not to make their children feel more nervous than they already will be starting a new school year.

“Check your own anxiety level, address your own anxiety, and look at it from your children’s point of view,” said Ansari. “These are conversations to have, and the most important thing is to validate how they’re feeling and acknowledge that it is really scary to hear about these events, and let them lead the conversation.”

When talking with children about tragedies, Ansari says it’s also important for those conversations to be age-appropriate.

“Some kids are not ready to have a conversation about these things, for example under seven-year-old, but for teenagers, they look more for answers, what to do, what can be done, and then there’s a curious group, let’s say eight to 13-year-olds, they’re more curious as to asking ‘why’ these things happen,” said Ansari. “It’s good to keep in mind that different age groups react differently.”

School districts across Central Texas have been doing active shooter training throughout the summer leading up to the first day of school which draws the question: should parents be training their kids for school shootings, too?

Experts have varying opinions.

“As far as drills, I think that is something they should be involved in, parents should try to do at least one or two drills at home and be proactive,” said Ansari.

Donaldson advises caution about doing drills with children at home.

“In this situation, that can definitely create a lot of anxiety and fear and really an acute stress reaction to that type of training and talk about that,” said Donaldson. “The problem with that, is that the child is most likely going to go to school every day this year and never have a problem, and what they just did was create an anxious problem instead of allowing it to naturally work itself out and allowing the school, who are professionals, to do exactly what they know how to do.”

So what can parents do besides quell and hide their own anxiety?

“Reminding our children that they’re going to go to school, it’s going to be a wonderful day, you can’t wait to hear all of the fun things that they get to do, assuring them they’re going to be safe,” said Donaldson.

Ansari says normalizing the return to the classroom is key.

“Go to the same routine, let them know that things are going to be safe,” said Ansari. “Reassure them that the world is a safe place, this is a good opportunity I think for parents to talk to their kids and decide what kind of values you want to instill in them.”

Donaldson also recommends parents and caregivers have a regular ‘special ritual’ to do with the child they’re taking and/or picking up from school like a special saying, motto, handshake, etc., to make them feel connected and safe.

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