6 Tips for Speaking with Children About Gun Violence

The recent events in Las Vegas are horrifying.  Due to the extensive media coverage, children will undoubtedly be exposed to the tragedies that transpired when a man opened fire on a large crowd at an outdoor concert.  It is a difficult conversation to have for any parent or caregiver.  Here are 6 tips for speaking with children about gun violence.

1) Take care of yourself first.
The way that you carry yourself will signal to your children whether or not they are safe – both emotionally and physically. If you are able to regulate your emotions, you will be better able to help a child struggling with their own. This may mean that you need to have your emotional reactions behind closed doors. It also may mean that you might have to “tap out” if you are too emotional to speak to your child and have another adult help out.

2) Don’t speak to children about the incident unless it has come into their lives.
If it has come into their lives, meaning they have been exposed to news or other children at school have said scary things, find out exactly what they know before addressing it.

3) Allow what the children are saying to be your guide of what level to speak to them about it.
Answer only what they are asking about, and make sure that you let them know that they are not at risk and they are safe. Also important, let them know the adults in their life are also safe.

4) Be cautious of providing too much information.
Too much information can emotionally and cognitively overwhelm a child and make the situation even worse. Think “spoonfuls” of information, not a dump of information.

5) Really listen to their feelings.
Be present. Repeat back to them what their concerns are before responding to them, this will help them to feel heard and will help you to take in what their needs are in order to better support them.

6) Older children may want to be active in their response and raise money for the victims.
This can be helpful as it can help children feel more in control of a situation that feels out of control. It can be a positive step for everyone.

When to get help:

Children experience stress in different ways from adults. They may have a regression in their behavior. They may become agitated, sad, aggressive, or emotionally dysregulated. They also may wet the bed, wake up in the night, and they may or may not have bad dreams. If your child is having this response and it’s going on longer than a week, I would recommend speaking with your pediatrician or a child psychologist about helping the child through this difficult time.

Dr. Lindsay Heller, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Beverly Hills, California. She is also a mother of 2 daughters and a professional nanny consultant.