In 2022 there have been 198 mass shootings in the United States, and it’s only May. Hearing of these tragedies has become so common that many people have become nearly numb to the news. We don’t understand why someone would choose to hurt other people in the name of hate, but our children are the ones who often have the big questions, not understanding why these awful events take place. You might be wondering how to help your child cope with news about gun violence?
They shouldn’t have to understand.
It hurts to see our kids trying to understand hate, violence, and crimes like these. Going grocery shopping at a local store shouldn’t be where a violent event occurs. Going to school to get an education shouldn’t be where your child doesn’t feel safe. Yet, active shooter drills are a part of their education for many children.
As much as we would like to shelter our children from the world’s dangers and these traumatic news reports, unfortunately, you can’t in most cases. So, how do you help your child cope with news about gun violence? How do you inform them to keep them safe but not remove their innocence and zest for the world?
It seems like nowhere is safe.
Dangerous, deadly and devastating mass shootings continue to be the central theme of news reports, senseless killings in the name of hate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter where you are or what you’re doing, nowhere seems safe. Schools, concerts, bars, malls, movie theatres, churches, and grocery stores are just some of the locations where these deadly acts take place, which can cause a lot of anxiety for children and adults alike. Is it safe to go to the grocery store to get groceries? Many people on Saturday, May 14, 2022, thought so. They never would’ve guessed that a grocery store would be a place where a hate crime would occur or that going grocery shopping would be how their lives would end so abruptly, harshly, cruelly, and filled with hateful motives.
Mass shootings seem to be happening more and more with each year that goes by; finding the words to explain again and again why it happened and continues to happen can be a challenge.
What are the right words to explain traumatic gun violence incidents and help your child cope with news about gun violence?
Assure their safety.
Always assure your child that they are safe and that you are always looking out for their safety. A clinical psychologist at Doctor’s on Demand, John Mayer, Ph.D., told parents.com in an interview explaining gun violence to children that assuring your child during these scary times is extremely important. “Reassuring our children in these turbulent and violent times is an important question for parenting. Say to your children: ‘We will never take you anywhere or put you in any place where there is danger. That is our primary job as parents to protect you. We will always keep you safe.’ That fundamental message of safety is critical to make sure your children hear.” says John Mayer, Ph.D.
We all know that the truth is we can’t always guarantee our children’s safety, but our children need to be assured nonetheless. They need to know that they are safe at school with their teachers, at the grocery store with you, or at the movies with their grandparents. Living in constant fear of what could happen is not suitable for children.
Teach them about the importance of gun safety.
According to EveryTown.org, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States alone. Every year 18,000 children and teens are shot, killed or wounded because guns are not handled safely. Additionally, around 3 million other children are exposed to gun violence directly.
Talking to your children about gun safety:
- Teach them never to touch a gun unless carefully supervised by an adult.
- Let them know that only adults trained to do so, like police, should handle guns.
- Explain the consequences of real guns vs. toy guns. They aren’t a toy.
Don’t let your child hear it all from social media, T.V. or friends in school.
These horrific events are gruesome, and reports are filled with details that your child shouldn’t absorb, especially if they’re young. Aim to have a gentle conversation with your child about the tragic event. Try to avoid finding out through another source that will likely provide too much detail for their young minds. For example: Having the news report on the T.V. when your child comes home from school can cause them to dwell on the events and instill fears and worries that they don’t need happening in their growing minds.
Give your child an open space to share their thoughts and worries.
Some children hardly notice or care about what is happening worldwide, but others may face anxiety about horrific events connected to gun violence. Always assure your child that they can bring these worries and concerns up to you. Keep conversations open and take the time and consideration to listen to what they are saying to you. Everyone benefits from talking to someone when they’re facing anxiety about something. When your child can share their concerns and worries in a safe environment, they will feel more confident, secure and better able to process and understand what they are feeling and thinking.
Always be sure to keep things age-appropriate when figuring out how to help your child cope with news about gun violence.
Your young children won’t need a massive explanation for why something horrific like a mass shooting occurred; assuring your child’s safety to them is extremely important in their younger years. Children ages 12 and up are often more able to be introduced to in-depth conversations like how these senseless actions are immoral and unacceptable.
Give them space and freedom to acknowledge.
Many times, we as adults are dismissive of the daily tragic events. We have become desensitized and almost numb to horrific events, like mass shootings, reported on the news. Remember, your child is sensitive, and these events are upsetting. Don’t brush off their feelings and questions because that is what we are used to doing. Please give them the space and freedom to sit with their emotions and think through them. Be there for them, guiding them through these thoughts and feelings positively.
A helpful resource for helping your child manage their thoughts and feelings.
Using the Thoughts and Feelings: Learning to Manage How I think and Feel, Special Interest Unit, you can help your child learn positive lessons on managing those big emotions.
Learn more about Thoughts and Feelings: Learning to Manage How I Think and Feel.