Talking to Kids About Gun Violence and School Shootings

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Tragedy struck Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, this past Tuesday when an armed gunman killed 19 children and 2 teachers. Grief has swept through the nation and the world as we mourn the loss of these individuals. Our hearts collectively grieve with the families of the victims in Uvalde and our thoughts are with Robb Elementary and the surrounding community.  

Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, who has felt the impact personally of gun violence when his father was killed when he was 18 years old, voiced his frustration with the senseless violence impacting our country. He asked, “When are we going to do something? I am tired. I am so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there.”

To get a better sense of the frustration and fear involved with being a parent today, in the age of mass violence and school shootings, we spoke to a proud Texan father, with kids who are 3 and 5 years old. 

We asked him how he plans to discuss gun violence with his children and he responded, “I don’t know. You want to keep your children as innocent as long as possible, but there are also real life lessons they need to learn or hear about as soon as possible to where they can conceptualize it.” He also stated that seeing children as victims of mass shootings and other violence makes the topic an extremely difficult one to discuss with children. 

Many parents we have spoken to this week have echoed these thoughts and sentiments, so we have provided some tips for discussing and coping with this unbelievable tragedy.

  1. Set limits on TV, computer, and phone time. When mass shootings occur, they tend to dominate all cable news networks and news websites. Continuous exposure to traumatic events, such as mass shootings, may increase your child’s level of anxiety and will block you, as the parent, from managing the discussion. Set firm limits on technology access during this time, and get other caregivers on board to enforce these limits.
  2. Make the discussion age-appropriate. Ask your child if they have heard about the event, and let them provide a full answer before discussing what happened. Then, lead the discussion in an age-appropriate manner. For younger children, briefly describe what happened and share how you plan to keep them safe. Let them know that you love them, and you’ll do everything imaginable to ensure their safety.
  3. Process thoughts and emotions. After you discuss the event and express love and care for your child, ask them how they are feeling about the event and the conversation. Ask them to tell you what they’re thinking and feeling. You could even say, “Name 2 feelings you’re having right now.” Validate any feelings they share and make sure they know it is normal to feel all kinds of feelings.
  4. Share your thoughts and feelings. After your child shares their thoughts and feelings with you, thank them for sharing, and return the favor by sharing your thoughts and emotions with them. It’s okay to let them know if you’re sad, angry, or confused. This also models for your child that it is okay to share their feelings and process difficult events with others. 
  5. Discuss school safety plans. It’s crucial to discuss safety as a part of this discussion. Ask your child if they know who they should follow during an emergency at school. If you or the child is unaware of current safety protocols at their school, schedule a discussion with their teacher or school administrator to learn more. Make sure your child is clear on what they should do to keep themselves safe in the case of a school shooting emergency.

This is a tremendously difficult time and these are unfathomable events to process. Remember, as hard as it is, allow yourself time to process the emotions you are feeling as a parent. We can’t show up well for our children if we can’t show up well for ourselves. 

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