Mass Shootings: How to Talk to Our Children

New studies reveal children's stress about shootings.

Posted Aug 28, 2018

What are you afraid of?
What’s happening in the schools with shootings.
- Girl, age 7

Lucas, age eight, asked me: What is the problem with guns in the United States? He is one of my child clients who lives in England and has heard about the rising number of mass shootings in the US. Lucas is an intelligent child who genuinely was pondering this problem. But he’s not the only one, and many children report that school shootings are either their number one or two fear (other ones include parents dying, failing at school, or being bullied). So how we do talk to our children about mass shootings? What can we say?

The Talk

Children need to feel unconditionally loved and safe. The fear of school or mass shootings rocks their ability to feel safe in today’s world. Helping a child cope with the uncertainties of life is part of the teachable moment of this talk, which needs to be:

  • Constructive: I’m not asking you to be sunny sunshine, but to try and focus your child on the good things in the present moment. Right now, you’re safe. Learn about what their school is doing to make their school safe and explain to them in age appropriate ways. Perhaps even teach them a breathing exercise to relax and remember in this moment: All is well.
  • Clear: Explain to your children there are things, which are in their control (for example, how they style their hair, what to eat for lunch, and who to make friends with) and other things outside of their control (for example, the weather). Focus on the things you can control in life and learn coping skills to handle the fear of things outside of your control.
  • Honest: Although it’s a normal instinct to want to put your child in a bubble and protect her from every stressful thing in the world – at some point, you do need to help her navigate these emotional challenges. Of course, you need to tailor your honest discussion to what your unique child needs at his or her age.

School Shootings

Recently, I was asked about how to speak to children about school shootings, which I also answered in this video: