The unthinkable has happened again. An armed teenager has again entered a school with a rifle set on killing whoever crossed his path.

Every time there is a violent incident at a school, our hearts as a parent are crushed. Why would this happen? How come we haven’t fixed the issues yet? How can I help my child feel safe when I’m not sure I can tell them they will be?

There is little worse as a parent than feeling helpless to protect and help your child.

I spoke recently with counselor Rebekah Cotner, MA, MHC-LP, who offered some tips for helping your child through the aftermath of a traumatic incident, even if they were not directly involved.

She advises watching for signs that your child may need some extra support, such as:

Increased isolation and worry (not wanting to go to school or spend time with friends)

Have trouble focusing on schoolwork

Increased physical complaints and sudden change in moods/behaviors

In addition, she says to make sure to keep the opportunity for communication open by:

Listening first, asking open-ended questions, dont push it if they are not ready

           “You haven’t seemed yourself lately

Helping your child feel safe and in control, affirming their feelings

            “I can understand why you would feel this way.”

            “Let’s make a plan to help you feel safe.”

Have a follow-up opportunity for them to talk more if needed.

Assuring your child that you will stick with them and support them as they work through their feelings personally and in their peer community. In addition, if needed, help by securing the appropriate professional support of grief counselors, trauma therapist, pastoral or peer support.

Lastly, be sure to take care of your own emotional needs, taking steps to gain peer support, participate in community efforts to raise safety and awareness, and above all, make time for your family to have the space for recovery and natural conversation.

For additional resources for children of all ages, see Healing Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence, a guide for families available from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention


Patti Gibbons (

Patti is a passionate pursuer of Jesus Christ, a wife of 30 years, the mom of two incredible young adults.  She has spent a good chunk of my adult life as a youth minister in a number of settings,  communicating with youth, writing curriculum for youth ministry, and coaching youth ministers to help them be more effective and healthy in ministry.