Holistic Parenting: How to Talk with your Kids about Gun Violence
Updated: Aug 16
Let’s be real for a moment. Times are heavy right now - a lot is happening in the world. With violence both abroad and at home, inflation, economic uncertainty, and even environmental concerns, it may feel like incredibly overwhelming and stressful right now for you and your family.
As a parent or caregiver, to then have to agonize over how to discuss the latest mass shooting with your child should be the last of one’s worries. Let alone, fearing for your child’s safety within the walls of their own school.
We understand. We’re here to help you navigate this uncharted territory. We know that life is not easy for parents right now. Gun violence has become an epidemic plaguing the United States and as a result, tragedy surrounds us. We are experiencing individual and collective trauma every time a mass shooting occurs. It can be hard to maintain optimism and find inner calm, and it can be even harder to help our children find this for themselves.
We believe that one of the most important ways we can take care of ourselves and our families is to talk about gun violence openly. Honest conversations about what is happening are necessary to navigate the future together.
Whether you have a little one of your own, have other loved children in your life, or want to talk to your teenager about safety and wellness, we hope these tips will help you guide the tough conversation about school shootings with your family.
Firstly, start the conversation. Ask your child questions to gauge their understanding of the event. We often fail to recognize how intuitive children are. Talk to your children about gun violence when it makes sense. Ask them what they know, or what they have heard. For those who are younger than six years old, refrain from directly acknowledging the tragedy.
Be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that you feel scared, upset, or worried. Your child can sense how you’re feeling already, being open and honest about your feelings will help them make sense of their own. Like any situation, it is important for your child to know that their feelings are valid. By expressing your own emotions, they recognize that it is okay to feel this way.
For younger children, help them name and label their emotions. Children often experience the physical sensations of anxiety, worry, or fear, but may not yet be equipped yet with the vocabulary to express how they are feeling. Visit your local library for books that introduce children to a range of emotions, and how to best identify and express them.
Depending on their age, less is more. Specialists recommend keeping your explanation brief, a sentence or less, for those who are six and younger. This may sound like, “A very confused and sad person wanted to hurt people.”, or, “The police had to stop a very sad and confused person from hurting people.”.
Limit screen time and prevent news exposure as much as possible. Cognitive psychologists have found that images stick in our memory better than descriptions, especially for children. This may be a good time to discuss sensationalism, click-bait, and the capitalization of tragedy in the media with your older children.
Assure your child that you and your family are safe. We can’t promise our children that they won’t ever have to feel the impact of gun violence, but we can reassure them that the chances are very unlikely.
Stick to routines. It is likely that your first instinct will be to pull your child out of school and hold them close. But, disrupting their normalcy will only provoke more worry or anxiety. Remain calm and continue with your normal evening routine. Spend extra time with your child, remembering how precious these moments are. If a something does come on the news, talk with your children about gun violence in a safe and educational way.
Focus on solutions. Let your child know that there are things we can do to help. Just how, is up to you. You may discuss the importance of gun regulation, mental illness and the signs of distress, or taking school drills seriously.
Again, we hope these tips provide some structure and support for navigating these difficult times with your family. And we truly believe that education leads to change; with the right conversations, cultural shifts, and the right leadership, gun violence will no longer have to be a topic of conversation with our young children. Let us continue to study and understand the variety of root causes for this kind of violence, develop behavioral intervention systems that help communities intervene when there are early signs of risk, and prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence, consider visiting the following resources:
Survivors Empowered, founded by the parents of Jessica Redford Ghawi, who was killed in the Aurora Colorado Theater Mass Shooting in 2012, Survivors Empowered provides support, education, and resources to survivors of gun-violence.
The Rebels Project was started in the wake of the Aurora mass shooting by a group of Columbine survivors who wanted to lend their support.
Be Your Best Self & Thrive Counseling is here to help. If you're currently overwhelmed by everything in the world and need some support, schedule a free consultation with us here. We are a safe space to talk through what you are feeling, how to navigate the challenges of the current state of affairs, and how to best support your family moving forward.
**Special note: Our hearts go out to those impacted by the Robb Elementary School Shooting, including the 19 beautiful souls taken from their loved ones, and the two selflessly loving teachers. You can donate to the Robb Elementary School Memorial Fund, where proceeds will go directly to the families and community affected by this tragedy.
Alex is passionate about integrative and alternative therapeutic techniques in psychology. She has observed and utilised art as a therapeutic intervention for vulnerable children and has studied the detrimental effects of stress on the body. She enjoys writing about how important cultural issues impact the physical, emotional and spiritual health of both the individual and the community.
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