In the wake of yet another mass shooting, you may be wondering how you can talk with your kids about gun violence and other forms of mass attacks. HonorHealth's Pedro Choca, PhD, a psychologist with the HonorHealth Medical Group, offers some advice.
First, focus on yourself
How are you responding to and processing your own emotions? Remember that it's OK for you to have your own set of emotions, Dr. Choca said.
At the same time, remember that your children are learning by observing you and listening to you speak with others. Take some time to think about your own emotions so that you can then be responsive to your child's needs.
Turn off the TV; go offline
One of the simplest ways to reduce the stress level in your household is to avoid negative or graphic images. It may seem difficult to do, but turning off the TV and shutting down your laptop are two simple things you can do to minimize your children's exposure to negative images.
If your child has seen negative images, be sure to show them positive images as a counterbalance. These can be images of first responders and other people who come forward to help in times of tragedy.
Keep your message simple and straightforward
For younger children, you may not need to introduce the topic if they're not aware of the circumstances. Middle school kids may have some questions about safety. For all ages, but especially for preschool children, it's helpful to reassure them that they will be safe, that you will take care of them, as will other adults involved with them. Some younger children may become more demanding or clingy. Allow them to spend more time with you.
Teens may have already formed opinions. You can more actively engage in conversations with them about their role in maintaining their safety. It's also helpful to assist them in sorting out their opinions about these incidents.
Listen to your children
Your kids may have plenty of questions or comments of their own. If they do, keep the lines of communication open. Your child (and you) may be asking the question, "Why?" It's OK to not have the answer to this or other questions. It's fine to respond, "I don't know why. But I know it's unfair that this person hurt people and scared so many others." What's most important is listening to and validating your children's feelings. To do this, acknowledge and label their emotions.
Foster a sense of hope in your children
As Mr. Rogers said, "Look for the helpers." In moments of horror, heroes emerge. Point out these heroes to your children.
Another option, especially with teens, is to find ways to give back, whether to those directly impacted by a tragedy or by helping those within your community.
"During times of tragedy, it's helpful to validate emotions and feel the support of the community and the acts of heroism of many people," said Dr. Choca.