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How to talk to children about school violence

As news coverage continues to focus on guns, violence and school safety, many parents are struggling with what to tell their kids. Though school shootings are very rare, the recent Parkland massacre and the flurry of threats, hoaxes and lockdowns that followed have left many students on edge.

Real Hamilton-Romeo drops her daughter off at school every day with a hug and the same message: "I love you and stay safe."

The New York City mom says at first, the safety drills conducted at the school made her daughter anxious.

"The first time at this school she was a little confused about what was happening but then I explained to her why it was necessary and she understood," Hamilton-Romeo told CBS News.

Psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour says talking to kids about school violence can be a tough topic for parents navigate.

"We sometimes need to address the news," she said, "but we don't want to have our child losing sleep over events that are relatively low likelihood for them, but are still truly scary."

Damour offered age-specific guidance for how to talk to children about violence in the news:

  • Kids age 6 and under should be shielded from violent or extremely upsetting news coverage because they're too young to understand it.
  • For kids ages 7 to 11, Damour recommends asking children if they've heard about an incident and if they have questions.
  • For kids age 12 and over, she says it's important to keep the conversation going.

"I think it's helpful to be able to say to the children, you know, it's the job of adults to keep you safe," Damour said. "We work to keep you safe. And you do drills at school that are designed to do that and I wouldn't send you to school if I was worried that you were going to get hurt there."

She also said it's important for parents to adopt a matter-of-fact tone so these conversations won't be too frightening for kids.

Hamilton-Romeo says the more she talks to her daughter, the safer she feels at school.

"I think more people should talk to their kids, even if it is a touchy subject. When we don't talk to our kids that's when the fear and anxiety comes in," she said.