Tips For Talking To Your Kids About Gun Violence

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Image: Rob Crandall /

Last weekend was rough, and that’s an understatement. A shooter went on a spree in El Paso and another killed bystanders and his sister in Dayton, Ohio. The Texas shooter provided the internet with a disturbing manifesto that outlined his distaste for immigration. The second is reported to have curated personal hit and rape lists. It is, unfortunately, in this world that parents now have to raise children. How do you prepare little ones for this kind of environmental violence? This is the question we sought some insight into.

To do this, we got help from Rebecca Comizio,  a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Also, we spoke with Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, a Religious Education Director in the UU church. Both agreed on one thing: the conversation needs to be ongoing. It’s not a one and done kind of thing. Also, it needs to be age appropriate.

Comizio said, “Before jumping into something that’s been in the news, find out what your child knows. It is important to not give young children more information than they need, especially if details will serve only to scare and worry them while not keeping them safer.” This boils down to children not needing to know specific horrors. This is especially true for young children. Already in the midst of adjusting to school culture, it is important not to add fear for their lives on top of that. Comizio went on, “Encourage them to talk if they need to, but don’t “interview” them for distress. If an adult keeps asking questions like, “Do you feel safe? Are you worried?” a child is sure to read and absorb the adults’ worries and anxieties as a sign that they should be scared!”

It’s okay to relate with your children, however, and tell them you’re upset, too. Just make sure you follow up with the ways you deal with your own fears. Children learn healthy coping mechanisms from their parents. Say things like, “I read books when I feel scared,” or, “I was a little worried so I talked to my best friend. Now I feel better.”

Finally, Comizio says that while you can’t promise a child that nothing terrible will ever happen, it’s okay to remind children that most people in their world are good. In fact, she says, ” I tell my young students, there are people on campus whose jobs it is to plan and make sure everyone is safe everyday.”

Tomzcak Carlson says that with her own young son, she’s been involved with the March For Our Lives movement. It was through this that conversations around gun violence have occurred. She said that, though the family does not allow shooting toys in the home, he’s innocently imagined ones on his own. Therefore the family has, “differentiated with him what shooting actual(ly) is and how it causes real harm and death to people.”

In an article on Romper, Alissa Parker, mother of Emilie Parker who perished in the Sandy Hook shooting, pointed out how important it is not to brush off kids’ concerns. The piece reads, “Alissa tells the story of one little girl who had lost her mother to violence. She said she didn’t feel safe at school, and the school counselor — instead of undercutting her worries — told her they were valid and set up a meeting with the school principal. “So she went and sat with the principal, and she told him all the things she saw that made her nervous.”

Biltmore Psychology & Counseling shared this meme with tips on broaching the topic-

Finally, we offer this tip: if either you or your child is feeling insecure or worried about safety in school, malls, or anywhere else, do something. Call your senators. Link up with your school’s principle or superintendent. Make sure that your district is practicing NCTSN’s best practices, which you can find here. That way, you can assure your children you’re on the front line, doing all you can to bring change. That change can start with just a tweet. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence helps with this, giving you a one-click option to tell your rep you want to see fewer high powered weapons in the hands of the public. Visit it here.