Experts say children may experience back-to-school anxiety due to recent mass shootings

*NOTE: This is a stock photo.
*NOTE: This is a stock photo.(Comrade King / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - School bells are ringing again, but with recent mass shootings, some may have a new anxiety about going back to the classroom.

It has been a little over two months since the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. This incident has prompted talks of gun control and public safety.

For mothers like Shemeta Ford, the safety of her child is top of mind. Her son, Aiden started school today. She says despite recent events, she doesn’t have any reservations about sending him back to class this year.

“I’m not saying I put all my trust in the school he goes to, but I know their safety protocols. I know how someone has to enter into the school and I also know that if they have a concern they do reach out,” Ford said.

While Ford is not considering homeschooling her son, she says she understands why some parents would make this decision due to recent events.

“Being a parent, you want to make sure that your child is okay. You want to make sure that when you get home, you’re able to hold your baby. I can sympathize because they see what’s going on,” she said.

While you’ve been processing the news of horrific events around the country, children may also be doing the same.

“It can derail healthy brain development, activate what’s called our sympathetic nervous system and fight or flight response, which puts a child in a state of hyperarousal and it’s very difficult for a child to learn in that state,” said Laura Alderman, director of the institute of childhood resilience with LSU Health Shreveport.

She says you can help your children stave off the anxiety by strategically shifting your conversations with them.

“It’s important to answer a child’s questions, but also to reassure them that we’ve reduced the risk as much as we possibly can.”

According to the latest data from the CDC, 9.4 percent of children between the ages of three and seven (approximately 5.8 million) were diagnosed with anxiety between 2016 and 2019.

Alderman says long-term anxiety can create toxic stress at any age, but can be especially detrimental in children. She says censoring can also be a big help.

“The most important thing that we can do as adults and caregivers is to censor the kind of content that they are seeing and hearing.”

Signs of anxiety in children include bed-wetting, behavioral changes, and stomach or head aches. If you sense something is off with your child or that they may be experiencing anxiety, there are some things you can do to help.

  • Ask them if there’s anything on their mind and be willing to listen.
  • Be sure to create a safe environment for them to talk about their feelings.
  • Reassure them by focusing on what is true instead of the “what ifs” that could occur.

Ford says she’s confident that she’ll be able to tackle any issue that arises when it comes to anxiety because she’s in tune with her son’s changes.

“I can tell if something is bothering my son because of how he may react. Sometimes he will be quiet, sometimes he will shut down because it’s hard for him to process his feelings, because we are still working on that as well. But if there is something that he needs to talk about, he knows that there is an open door. I’m his mom and he can share anything with me.”

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