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Tracy Kamhi, MS CPC-I is a clinical professional counselor intern in Las Vegas, Nevada. She works with children and teens. She has 18 years of experience with children in both educational and clinical settings. Here is her advice on how parents can to talk to their kids about mass shootings. 

talking to kids about mass shootings

In 2017, one of the largest mass shootings in American history took place in Las Vegas, Nevada.  There is no doubt your children will have questions, feelings and concerns regarding the event.  Just like us, kids are inundated with news, stories and have tons of feelings regarding what they see.  It is developmentally important that you take the opportunity to address these feelings and discuss the incident.

It may feel uncomfortable to address such a horrific event with your children.  You may feel like avoiding discussing it will be more appropriate.  As adults, we want to protect our children from disaster and feeling “negative” emotions. There are no emotions we can shield our children from.  They will experience every emotion throughout their lifetime, and tragic events are no exception.

As an adult, I am confused and saddened by the senseless loss of life on a grand scale, but I have the emotional experience and development to begin processing my feelings.  Children need more guidance. This is an amazing opportunity to assist in your child’s emotional development.  As their parent, who else is better suited? In order to get you started, I have compiled a list of basic therapeutic tips for you to use when discussing major events, such as the recent Las Vegas mass shooting.

Do be honest.

Explain the facts, in age appropriate ways.  For example, you could tell a 4 year old “There was a man who used a gun and hurts lots of people.  We don’t really know why he did this”.  For a teen, “Obviously the man was troubled and decided that hurting others with a gun was his only way of dealing with those feelings.  It was a horrible choice”.

Do address feelings directly.

For example “This shooting scared me, it makes me worry about our family and our safety.  It also makes me sad to think of all the lives that were lost”. Don’t be afraid to show intense emotions in front of the children or teens.  These are emotions they will experience at one point or another.  No person is immune to depression, anxiety, or grief.  We should use every opportunity to prepare them for these emotions.  They need to see that it is okay to express them.

Do talk through your child’s emotions.

For example, “When you heard about this shooting what did you feel”?  Work with them on expressing and processing the difficult emotions. For younger children, you can draw pictures or use toys to help them work through their feelings.

Do ask them what they need

Such as hugs or to play a game to distract them from the negative feelings. This is a great way of teaching them to normalize and deal with strong feelings.

Do tell your child what you are doing to keep them safe.

By reinforcing safety, they will deal with their feelings in a healthy way. A lot of children will worry that a shooting or tragedy will happen to them next.  By discussing safety, you are assisting them in reducing anxiety and coping with their fear.

Do have your child think of positive thoughts.

If you think your child is becoming hyper-focused or obsessed with the tragedy, start discussing positive things, like dance class or friends or the upcoming holidays. This teaches them simple replacement thoughts for the future.

Do take care of yourself, allow yourself to feel your feelings about this event.

If you are not okay, they won’t be either.  Just like on an airplane “Put on your oxygen mask before putting one on your child”.  Spend time with the family, have fun with friends, and remember that life is short and to enjoy every hug you can.

We hope these tips will help you like they will help us, talk to our kids about these horrific events. You’re kids may also being feeling anxious and worried. Here is a great list of books from our friends at No Time For Flash Card to help your kids through these feelings

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