Three adults and three children were killed in a shooting on Monday at The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tenn. For Olympian Shawn Johnson, who resides in Nashville with her husband and her children Drew, 3, and Jett, 20 months, the shooting was close to home.
“I haven't been able to catch my breath since reading the news and getting a call from our school that they were on lockdown as well given the news," Johnson wrote on her Instagram Story after hearing the news. "Shaking. Crying. Heartbroken. Horrific."
She added that the day had "changed" her — and that her "mama heart is shattered."
"You don't ever fully recover from this," Johnson continued. "Thinking of these beautiful innocent babies, their families, the first responders, the teachers, everyone affected by today's heinous acts."
Actress and singer Jana Kramer, another Nashville resident and mother, was shaken by the news as well. Though the shooting did not take place at the school where her kids Jolie, 7, and Jace, 4, attend, she wrote on Instagram that she knew someone who worked at The Covenant School. She was away from her kids when she received word of the shooting, and said she planned on hopping on a flight "ASAP" in order to "squeeze" her little ones.
"We shouldn't have to fear dropping our kids [off] at school and fearing them not coming home," she wrote. She called for "prayers and then action" following the events.
Kristin Cavallari, who shares three young kids with her ex Jay Cutler, echoed those sentiments, writing on Instagram, "Wanting to hug my babies a little tighter. We luckily weren't affected by this morning's shooting. But my heart breaks for everyone who was. This is a scary world we're living in and something needs to give."
These stars may have a bigger platform, but they're just more examples of how parents are feeling in the wake of yet another preventable tragedy. As of today, there have been 376 school shootings since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., according to data from the Washington Post. Shootings have become so prevalent that there are multiple cases of people living through more than one school shooting.
It is a lot to take in for parents, who know that realistically there is no way for them to promise their children safety. For parents who are already struggling to manage, how, then, can they best help their kids process these horrible events?
Thea Gallagher, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the Mind in View podcast, tells Yahoo Life that it's important for parents to keep in mind the age of their children before they decide to talk with them about mass shootings.
"In the ages of 4 to 6, it’s not necessary to bring up if it's not brought up by itself — but, these things are often brought up by other kids," she says. "We would want to keep our young kids from being exposed to this, but the truth is, if they have older siblings, or they see the news or have heard anything at school, they may know. You can keep the conversation open, and be kind of curious and say, 'What do you know about this? Have you heard about this?'"
For younger kids, she says it's important to frame the conversation by reminding them that while someone did a bad thing, the adults in their life also work to keep them safe. Gallagher also warns parents that young kids may be prone to "magical thinking" — such as the idea that they could prevent something bad from happening by being extra good.
"Teaching our kids to live with some uncertainty is important, but I always say, meet your kids where they are at," she explains. "Answer the questions they ask, and don't seed information preemptively. See what they need answers to, what they’re struggling with and what they are making meaning of."
One thing that many parents struggle with is the notion that they can't give their kids complete reassurance that nothing bad will happen — especially as the news suggests shootings can and do happen.
"With older kids is when you can really start to talk about things like, 'How does this impact your emotions? How does it make you feel? How can we live in a world where sometimes bad things happen? And how do we stay present even when we can't control all the bad things from happening?'"
Gallagher also says that while it's important for parents to be there for their kids, it's also important not to make their kids the first people they go to in order to process their own feelings about these situations.
"It's important for adults to do some of their own emotional management initially — that can be a lot on a kid," she says. "It's totally normal to cry in front of your kids and show emotion, but I work with a lot of anxious parents for whose emotional response is very heightened…Kids can be very sensitive and really impacted by a parent's emotions, especially if they're really young and don't know how to make meaning out of it."
For those situations, Gallagher recommends parents turn to their friends and other parents for support. Depending on the parent, she notes, some may feel that getting involved in causes seeking to prevent future tragedies be a way to cope with negative feelings surrounding these acts of violence.
For parents who feel like they are unable to manage their own anxiety and grief stemming from these situations — especially more than a week out from the event — it’s important to seek professional help.
"When you start to feel like I can't send my kids to school, or the level of fear that I have every day is starting to interfere with my functioning and my ability to have a good quality of life and be present for my kids emotionally…that's when you'd want to make sure you're seeking your own help," she says.
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