Help Children Cope with Emotions about the News of School Shooting

People of all ages have been affected by the news and social media information about a recent shooting at an Iowa school. Children, especially, could experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety in response to this news, according to David Brown, behavioral health state specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work or home responsibilities, changes in appetite and changes in mood. This is normal and should begin to disappear in four to six weeks, Brown explained.

“Despite the media prominence and the stress these events may produce, mass shootings are statistically rare events, though we may not feel that way. However, we still need to be better prepared to understand children’s reactions and how to help them cope,” Brown said.

The American Psychological Association offers the following advice.

  • Listen to them. Take the time to actively listen to what your child or teen has to say. Many times, all children or teens want is someone to listen to them. In many cases, that is the best help you can offer.
  • Affirm and support their need for help. If a child or teen tells you they are feeling afraid or upset, for example, tell them you are proud of them for sharing their feelings. Let them know you appreciate the courage it took for them to talk with you and for trusting you to help them.
  • Be genuine. Try to avoid speaking from a script. Teens can tell when you’re not being genuine. When you are open, authentic and relaxed, they can be open, authentic and relaxed as well.
  • Take “news breaks.” Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news or staying connected online because constant exposure may heighten their anxiety and fears.
  • Check in often. Be sure to check in regularly with your children and teens as you monitor their coping. Provide extra time, attention and patience.

“If adverse reactions continue or at any point interfere with your children’s or teens’ abilities to function at home or at school, or if you are worried, you can find local mental health professionals by going to,” Brown said.

Consider calling the Iowa Concern Hotline. This resource from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers confidential assistance and referral for stress, legal questions and financial concerns. Iowa Concern can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-447-1985.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers parents guidance on helping their children after a shooting. A fact sheet (available in English and Spanish) describes common reactions children may have, how parents can help them and self-care tips after an event.

Realistic Expectations for Dating

A group of teens stand together in front of a school building.

As we’ve talked about couple relationships, we want to also be talking about the relationships our children are engaging in! Here’s a look back from previous post on our blog that’s still relevant today:

Teens love to hang out together – in large groups, small groups, and couples. As parents, we’re happy they have friends. But then we start to worry when the friends turn into boyfriends and girlfriends. Our immediate reaction may indeed be, “no dating until you’re 30!” 

Realistically we know that’s not likely to happen, so how can we approach the dating decisions? Let’s return to one of the five basics of parenting adolescents. Monitor and observe means that you let your teen know you are aware of their activities and relationships.

In the beginning, there may be direct supervision. Perhaps you volunteer to chaperone the school dance or let some dates happen in your home. You might give the teens a ride to the movie, mall, or game. As the teens get older and have more experiences, your monitoring becomes less supervision and more communication. Ask where your teen is going, who is the date, and what the couple plans to do. When this is done in a conversational way, rather than an inquisition, you are more likely to get an honest answer.

Another important strategy is to build a network with other parents and adults in the community. Be willing to let each other know of the good things happening as well as any troubling trends or events. Watch for signs of troubled relationships or abuse.

Dating is a natural evolution in relationships. While this issue may always strike angst in the heart of parents, dating is another step on the road to adulthood. Supervision, communication, observation, and networking with other adults are the keys to successfully traveling that road.

What family rules do you have for dating?

This blog was originally posted on 12/20/13: No Dating Until You’re 30

Gains from Custodial Grandfamilies & How to Help

Dr. Jeongeun (Jel) Lee

This post is the second in a series on custodial grandparenting, with information from Dr. Jeongeun (Jel) Lee, a Human Sciences Extension and Outreach State Specialist who studies gerontology. Miss last week’s post? Check it out here.

Dr Lee, last week we talked about the importance of sharing information about grandparents that are parenting their grandchildren. This week we would like to focus on some of the great things that occur. What can you share with us?

“You’re right, prior studies have often emphasized stressors and negative outcomes while disregarding the positive aspects of custodial grandfamilies. However, it is common for caregivers to report positive feelings. This includes:

  • The satisfaction of knowing that their loved one is getting excellent care, sensing personal growth, and increased purpose in one’s life.
  • Gratification from passing on a tradition of care and modeling caregiving to their grandchildren has also been reported.
  • Similarly, love for and commitment to a custodial grandchild can lend value and satisfaction to the caregiving role.

Scholars also found that the perception the grandparent has on their experience as a caregiver are associated with positive and negative well-being outcomes respectively among custodial grandparents.(Meaning that grandparents positive perceptions can create positive outcomes).”

What are some things we can do to help grandparents with their caregiving?

“It is important to validate both the positive and negative emotions expressed by custodial grandparents, explore the sources of these emotions, and help these grandparents stay positive. Assisting grandparents to modify their own expectations for caregiving is a worthy task, as the situation itself cannot necessarily be changed.”

Whitley, D. M., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2017). African–American solo grandparents raising grandchildren: A representative profile of their health status. Journal of community health42(2), 312-323.

Custodial Grandparents, Parenting Stress, and the Loss of Self

Dr. Jeongeun (Jel) Lee

This week and next, we welcome Dr. Jeongeun (Jel) Lee, a Human Sciences Extension and Outreach State Specialist who studies gerontology. She will share her research on custodial grandfamilies and the stress, loss, and gains of this responsibility. Below is an excerpted interview.

Dr. Lee, please share with us some general information about grandparents raising their grandchildren.

“Interest in custodial grandfamilies, defined as those where grandparents provide full time care without significant involvement by grandchildren’s biological parents, has soared over the past quarter century. Currently, there are more than 2.7 million custodial grand family households in the United States serving as primary caregivers for their grandchildren without the presence of the grandchild’s parents (US census, 2012); 63% are grandmothers and 35% are grandparents of color (Whitely, 2017). Parental substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, and child abuse/neglect are the predominant reasons grandparents are raising custodial grandchildren.”

Why is grandparents raising grandchildren something that we should give special attention to?

“Managing the care of custodial grandchildren (CGC) often requires constant attention and extensive resources. Scholars who observed grandfamilies argue that raising grandchildren can provide both emotional, physical, and financial challenges, but also provides many rewards.”

What are some challenges grandparents face?

“Part of the challenges come from the perspective of retirement. Most grandparents are at the stage where they could enjoy retirement or have other life plans but must forgo these plans and readjust their roles as parents. Given that grandparents may have different parenting strategies from current parents, this lack of knowledge or skills may also create some conflicts between generations.”

Reaching out to grandparents that are parenting their grandchildren is an important topic for communities to consider. Their challenges are unique and need focused attention.

Next week, Dr. Lee will discuss what is gained from custodial grandfamilies as well as the practical implications.

Kreider, R. M., & Ellis, R. (2011). Living arrangements of children: 2009 (Current Population Reports, P70-126). Washington, DC: U. S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from

Whitley, D. M., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2017). African–American solo grandparents raising grandchildren: A representative profile of their health status. Journal of community health42(2), 312-323.

Ten Tips for Easing into a New School Setting

Cheryl Clark

Guest blogger and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Human Sciences Specialist in Family Life, Cheryl Clark, shares insight about facing a new school setting.

The first day of school is fast approaching and many families may be facing a transition to a new school. Careful preparation for beginning at a new building or a new district can help minimize effects on children – academically, socially and emotionally.

I offer these tips to help children get used to their new setting.

Mid adult Hispanic father helps his elementary age son with his homeschool homework assignment. The little boy is writing on a pad as his father teaches him. They are sitting at the kitchen table.
  1. Attend school orientations or open houses. These events are planned to ease children into the new environment. Sometimes just seeing what the new school looks like relieves stress. This is a good opportunity to meet teachers and see classmates.
  2. Make friends early. Before school starts, if possible, sign up for sports teams or attend events where students can meet others who go to their school. Once the school year begins, encourage your child to join clubs or extracurricular activities.
  3. Model the behavior you want to see in your children. Introduce yourself to the new teacher or principal. Get involved in parent organizations and meet other parents. You can be a strong role model for how to venture into new spaces.
  4. Get school supplies based on lists furnished by the school. Selecting their own backpacks, lunchboxes or other supplies gives children a sense of control on the first day. Having the supplies specified by the school can ease jitters that might otherwise happen by not having the appropriate materials.
  5. Talk about it. Ask questions such as “What are you most excited about for the new school year?” and “What are you most worried about?” Reassure your child that other students have the same feelings. Keep in mind that how you frame the experience will impact your child, so emphasize the transition as a chance to learn new things and meet new people.
  6. Do a trial run. Take your child to the bus stop, drive to the building or practice the walking route ahead of the first day of school. Set your departure time and plan backwards, allowing plenty of time for a healthy breakfast.
  7. Rest up! In the days leading up to this transition, set routines so your child gets enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can increase stress, make concentration difficult and just simply leave your child grumpy.
  8. Prepare the night before. Set out clothes. Pack lunches and backpacks. Any prep done the night before can reduce the chances for last-minute emergencies.
  9. Be patient. Children may be quieter, more challenging or just not themselves during this transition. Give them a little time and space to adjust to the new setting and let them know that home is a safe space for sharing their feelings.
  10. Keep tabs. If your child shows signs that the transition isn’t going well, talk to school personnel. Guidance counselors and school psychologists can give advice for difficult situations. Signs to watch for might include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, separation anxiety or refusing to go to school.

Sources: – Tips to Help Your Child Transition to a New School

GreatSchools – 11 Tips for Adjusting to a New School