8 Tips on How to Talk to Kids About Mass Shootings
1. Bring Issues Up
In an effort to protect our children, we often remain silent on tragedies like the school
shooting in Texas and the mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, in an effort to protect our children from experiencing emotional distress. However, avoiding these issues is not the best option.
Our silence can communicate that we feel uncomfortable about the topic, and it can prevent children from reaching out to us to start a conversation. As a result, this can cause more harm than good.
2. Ask Questions
It's important to begin your conversation with open-ended questions. For example, you can ask, "I was wondering if you heard about the recent shooting in Texas or Buffalo, NY? By asking a question, you set the tone for a back-and-forth conversation versus giving them your own version of a news report. This format will also allow you to promote critical thinking skills and get a glimpse of what your child(ren) has picked up from their peers. This conversational style of communicating will help you determine if there is any misinformation that you have to clear up.
3. Show Empathy
Ask your child(ren) how they feel about the shooting and share your feelings too! When teachers,
parents, and caregivers are vulnerable, children are more likely to open up more about their thoughts and feelings. Many times, kids have difficulty connecting with adults because we are seen as superheroes in their eyes. It's important for them to also see how we struggle with strong emotions. Be mindful, that it's typical for kids to regress a bit after hearing about a tragedy so don't be surprised if they want to sleep in your bed or engage in an activity they used years ago to cope with stress.
4. Check-In with Your School
It's important to check in with your child's school to see if there is a plan in place for an
emergency. If so, inquire when's the last time it has been practiced, evaluated, and updated. It's also important to ensure that mental health support is in place to help kids and staff who need additional support to process these tragic events.
5. Limit Media Exposure
As you stay on top of the latest news, it's important to set boundaries on the amount of TV and social media you and your child(ren) take in. I recommend having a critical conversation about setting boundaries on the time and duration of your media intake. For example, it's not best to view the news right before bed. It negatively affects sleeping patterns and many times we need a few hours to emotionally process distressing content.
6. Be Age-Appropriate
Children process grief and change differently based on their age. For children under 6, it's
common for them to repeat the same questions numerous times. Be patient and remind
yourself that repetition is how younger children ease their minds. For children in middle and high school, use this time to talk about important issues like ethics and morality.
7. Utilize Your Community
Last but not least, remember it takes a village to raise a child. As we have these critical conversations, we can gain support from our neighbors, schools, churches, and the list goes on. We don't have to figure things out alone. I'm always eager to hear about how other parents are processing current events with their kids because I learn so much through my community.
8. Seek Psychoeducational Resources
Seek additional resources and guides to assist in having critical conversations.
I wrote a guide in 2020 for educators and parents" called "How Was Your Summer?" to assist in teaching kids how to cope with change.
It has 15-minute activities that educators can use in their classroom and a home connection portion for parents to reinforce each activity.
The activities are tailored for children from grades K-12.
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Jenny Delacruz, MS, LPC, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor
PO Box 9400 Philadelphia, PA 19139