Every day, over 300 people are shot on average in the United States. After mass shootings happen, they remain in the news cycle for months or even years. More and more children are being exposed to gun violence either directly or indirectly, via social media, news outlets, and conversations at home and school.
As a parent, you’re probably worried about your kid’s mental health and anxieties surrounding gun violence. It’s a difficult subject to bring up. It’s a necessary conversation, but you’re also walking the thin line of talking about a mature, traumatizing subject while making it age-appropriate for your child.
Start the conversation
Don’t wait for them to come to you after a major shooting. Get them to ask you questions so they can guide the conversation. This allows you to filter out topics you feel might be too mature to discuss yet. Encourage them to spend a bit more time with you so that they feel more comfortable coming to you with their feelings.
Validate their distress
Let them know it’s okay to feel worried. Gun violence has created a collectively traumatized America. It’s normal to feel stress in the immediate aftermath, and there are appropriate ways of feeling those feelings. Encourage them to get creative, play, and read in times of heightened distress. These are positive coping mechanisms that can redirect negative emotions.
Reassure them that they’re safe
Even though gun violence seems very common in America, the likelihood that your child will be directly exposed to it is still slim. Most schools and public events are completely safe. There are specific guidelines and rules set in place to prevent tragedies in these places from happening. Talk to your kid about statistics and be honest with them.
Keep a routine
Kids do best when there’s a schedule in place. Chaos and uncertainty make them feel uncertain, too. In any stressful situation, it’s important to have consistent mealtimes, evening routines, and weekend plans. This will also give them reassurance that your home is a safe place.
Getting plenty of sleep and eating healthy are surefire ways of keeping them mentally healthy. Also, try to limit their exposure to the news and the internet as part of this routine. Getting in hours of doom-scrolling will only heighten their fears of guns.
Watch for their reactions
If someone close to your family is shot, it’s normal to feel traumatized. Even after a mass shooting in a place you’ve never been to, your child’s exposure to the news and social media can make them afraid it’ll happen closer to home. Pay close attention to their actions after talks of gun violence resurface.
Sometimes, children have a hard time articulating their feelings. Instead, they’ll express emotions through their actions. If they seem like they’re withdrawing from friends, spending more time alone, and not having fun doing what they used to love, it’s time to intervene. Encourage them to come talk to you and be honest about exploring how they feel.
Let them talk to someone
Sometimes, parents can’t do it all. If your child is still struggling with persistent fears of gun violence for weeks at a time, it might be time to involve a professional. It could be a sign that your child has developed generalized anxiety. A licensed therapist can talk them through positive coping skills and help them learn to recognize signs of their emotional distress. You can also consider attending therapy together, so that you and your child can communicate better at home.
To learn more about how to talk to children about gun violence, please reach out to us.