How To Talk To Kids About School Shootings

2 Dec by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

With gun violence on the rise, many parents (and teachers, mentors, etc.) question how to talk to kids about school shootings.  Unfortunately, hearing about mass shootings and gun violence is inevitable, even for young people. At HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, we recognize the mental health consequences of mass shootings and work to support those who are affected by gun violence.  

How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings

The mental health consequences of mass shootings are far reaching and can look many different ways.  Kids who have been involved in a mass shooting are likely to be the most severely impacted.  Yet, even when not a first-hand witness to a shooting, your child’s mental health may still be affected.

The influx of gun violence in the news is likely to leave anyone feeling some level of anxiety and/or confusion, especially children.  And while it may be uncomfortable to broach this topic with your child, avoiding it could be detrimental. And because it is unlikely your child will initiate this conversation, it is up to you.      

  • Ask open ended questions – ask your child what they have heard about school shooting/mass shootings/gun violence; ask them how they feel about what they have heard.
  • Validate their feelings – whatever your child expresses, assure them that it is OK; explain that a range of emotions can arise in these tragic situations, and that there is no “wrong way” to feel.
  • Don’t force the topic – while it may be up to the parent/caregiver to initiate this conversation, it is not helpful to push your child too hard.  Instead, let them know you are open and available to talk at any time.
  • Consider your child’s age – keep your discussion age (and developmentally) appropriate. Talking to a teenager about school shootings and gun violence will be quite different to speaking with an elementary aged child.    

Other Helpful Tips for After a Mass Shooting

Talking to your child is imperative following a mass shooting.  Yet, there are other things you can do that could be helpful during this upsetting time.

  • Communicate with your child’s school – an open line of communication with your child’s school principal, administrators, and/or counselor can help you get answers to the questions you likely have about what they are doing to keep your child safe.  Also, because the school staff sees your child for much of their day, they may be able to provide insight as to whether your child is showing signs of increased stress or anxiety. 
  • Limit media exposure (for you and your child) – following a mass shooting, you may feel the need to get as much information as possible. Information can be helpful, up to a certain point, where it then just exacerbates stress and fear.  Find a balance, and turn off the news when your child is around.
  • Seek support – there is a high likelihood your mental health after a school shooting has been affected (whether it happened where you live or across the country).  These heartbreaking (and all too common) occurrences can make it feel like we are living in very scary times.  Speaking openly about your feelings with a trusted loved one or mental health professional can help.
  • Spend time together as a family – to minimize the detrimental effects of school shootings on families, it is essential to spend time together and maintain a normal routine.  

To find out more about how to talk to your kids about school shootings, or to learn about the mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell, contact us at 518-218-1188. With our new online therapy capabilities, HPA/LiveWell can now offer mental health services to anyone within not only the Capital Region, the Hudson Valley region – Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Newburgh, White Plains, Kingston, and surrounding New York cities, but we can offer mental health services and eating disorder treatment to anyone throughout New York state.