Talking to Your Child About Gun Violence
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to speaking to your child about the tragic gun violence that has become far too common in the United States, experts have provided some guidance and important aspects to think about when handling this difficult topic. While this list is not exhaustive, it can begin to provide a framework for how to think about the challenges in dealing with this issue. For more information, we always advise consulting a trained medical professional.
Your Own Reaction
How you react could impact your child’s response to the event so processing the event on your own prior to speaking to your child is often recommended as the best first step in this process. These events impact us all, and it’s important to seek your own help if you need it as you plan for how and what you intend to say to your child.
Age of Your Child
There is guidance from both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics on when to start speaking to your children about gun violence but it’s important to note that it all depends on the child.
From early elementary school to high school students, recommendations on how to address the topic with your child change and vary by the child’s age, so it’s important to factor that in ahead of any conversation.
For additional tips on providing age appropriate support for your child, visit: https://violence.chop.edu/types-violence-involving-youth/school-shootings/tips-parents-talking-children-exposed-violent-events
Regardless of the age, if there is no immediate threat or danger to your family or friends, reassure children and teens that they are safe. It is a powerful and important part of the conversation that children and adolescents are looking to their parents or guardians to provide. In addition to verbal reassurance, it can also come in the form of keeping your normal routine if they are up for it.
If your child is at an age to discuss the tragedy, an important part of the conversation is listening and hearing what your child is saying so you can validate feelings, address concerns and provide reassurance. Being able to listen calmly and respond to questions or concerns will create a powerful dialogue that helps your child process.
Think about how much should your child be absorbing via photos, videos or other information sources that are discussing the tragedy, and how their age factors into that equation. Adult conversations in front of children can also be a source of exposure and information to be mindful of. If they are at an age to discuss what has happened, make sure they’re hearing from you about it and not strictly learning of it from the media coverage.
How was your child behaving prior to being exposed to the tragedy? Has anything changed since then? Monitor how they are responding afterwards and if there are any concerns about the behavior, contact a mental health professional.