How to Talk to Your Kids About Shootings & Senseless Violence

As we cope together in the face of senseless tragedy in Texas, we offer this to help guide you as your navigate conversations with your children.

1. Start the discussion.

With upper elementary school aged kids and above, most experts agree that your role is to start the discussion and answer questions.

Ask your kids what they already know about what happened, and how they feel about it. Listen for any questions they have, and answer them as honestly as you can. After you’ve started the discussion, let your children’s questions and feelings guide the conversation.

Help your child identify their feelings about the shooting. You can help them do this by modeling expressing your feelings about it. (i.e. “I’m feeling worried about the families in Texas. How are you feeling about it?”)

For early elementary school children, you may not need to address it all, unless you think they may have heard about it at school or it directly affects them. In that case, keep information brief, simple, and age-appropriate.

2. Gently clear up misconceptions.

Kids may have heard exaggerations or misinformation from other children at school, or they may be confused about what actually happened. Though it is not necessary to clear up every single piece of misinformation, help them to separate fact, opinion and falsities.

3. Limit media exposure (especially visual images).

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends shielding children from the violent images on television since they can be upsetting and confusing.

These images can also cause nightmares, anxiety or irrational fears. When young children see repeated images of the same event, they often think that even more violence is happening right now.

4. Reassure them they are safe.

For all ages, most children’s main concern is if they are safe and if their families are safe.

Though you cannot promise your child that nothing will ever happen to you or your family, you can reassure them that you are doing everything you can to protect them, and so are other trusted adults.

You can talk about conducting emergency drills, locking doors, etc. Review safety procedures at school and home. Let children know how to call, where to meet, and how to communicate in case of an emergency.

Younger children may feel better just by knowing that the event happened far away.

5. Look for solutions.

Kids may feel like the world is out of control, but it’s important they do not feel helpless. This is especially true for teens, according to Richard Weissbourd, Harvard psychology professor.

Having discussions with your older children & teenagers about how to solve problems of violence and racism can be productive and cathartic for you and your kids. It helps to turn their anxiety, anger and fear about the situation into positive energy to be used for good.

You might even consider encouraging them to write a letter to their elected representative that articulates their beliefs, getting involved in a political action group, or getting them involved in a local effort that helps victims of the tragedy.

Talk with adolescents about what it has taken for the country to get through difficult, dark times in the past.

6. Find the helpers.

Focus their attention on the first responders and civilians who are helping. There will always be people who do bad things, but there will always be people who help and do the right thing.

Young children may want to make cards for the paramedics or children at Robb Elementary School.

7. Model Healthy Behavior. 

Set an example by turning off the televisions audio. or social media. If it’s true for you, you can acknowledge that constantly watching or hearing about a violent incident makes you anxious and upset.

Handle your own emotions by talking to other parents about how they’re feeling and how they’re choosing to discuss the incident with their kids. Take time to unwind by going for a walk and doing things you enjoy.

For Younger Kids

1. If possible, wait until about age 8.

Although it depends on your child, parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa suggests waiting until about age 8 to discuss violence in the news, since young children struggle to process the information.

However, if the incident directly affects your family, or if your younger children will hear about it from others, its best to talk to them about it. Not talking about can be even scarier for a child.

2. For very young children, tell a one-sentence story.

Since it is difficult to young children to understand the complexities of mass shootings and racial violence, create a one-sentence story that reflects your own beliefs. Something like “A bad man hurt people with a gun” can explain what happened at the level a young child will understand. Reassure your child they are safe.


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