How to talk to kids about mass shootings

Recent mass shootings, including at a Super Bowl parade and a school, spark fear in children. Parents should reassure, talk, and limit media exposure to ease anxiety.
caring mom and dad with teen son having difficult conversation

In the past few days and in the national news, we have seen mass shootings at a Super Bowl parade, in a church, at a hotel, and a drive-by at a high school. The media is replete with these frightening events. Media exposure of these events, particularly at a sports event or at a school can create anxiety, fear, vulnerability, and trauma to kids as they sense the lack of safety in their world. Parents and caregivers should be monitoring the responses and emotions of their children and teenagers as they are responding to this level of violence.

The National Association of School Psychologists has published a list of messages and conversations that parents and caregivers can have with children and teenagers to ease their fear and allow them to process these fearful events in healthy ways. It is important to be aware and alert to their emotions and anxieties about this type of violence and know some basic responses. Here are some of their suggestions as to how to talk and relate to kids about this kind of violence.

  • Reassure children that they are safe.
  • Validate their feelings.
  • Make time to talk.
  • Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
  • Review safety procedures.
  • Observe children’s emotional state.
  • Limit access to television and social media to these events.
  • Correct misinformation.
  • Maintain a normal routine.
  • Talk about steps children and youth can take to make a positive difference.

Chronic anxiety, behavioral changes, sleep problems, and general dysregulation that continues should be addressed by getting them some therapeutic help. As we see this kind of response to these incidences of violence that continues, we should address it proactively and help our kids process it with emotional clarity and authenticity which can often be hard for them. The main point is that these symptoms should not be ignored.

We all are dealing with these realities and fears. Our children are more vulnerable and often less communicative about the impact of the exposure to violence that they are feeling. It’s important we acknowledge the realities of violence in the media and process it together to gain perspective and allay the fear and anxiety it creates.

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