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How to Talk to Your Child About Mass Shootings

A mass shooting topped the national newscast in March, nearly a year to the day after the country shut down because of COVID-19. Then there was another. And another.

News of mass shootings took a backseat to the pandemic despite there being 610 mass shootings in 2020 according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. It was also a record year for gun violence deaths with nearly 20,000 people killed.

Through May 15 of 2021, there have been 178 mass shootings resulting in 206 deaths. There is no clear definition of a mass shooting other than incidents involving several victims of gun-related violence.

Mass shootings are traumatizing, especially for children and adolescents when safe spaces like schools and churches are the settings. Kids need us to make them feel safe but that’s hard to do when we may not feel safe ourselves.

Streesed Woman in Kitche

Manage Your Distress First

You really want to help your kids cope with news of the latest mass shooting, but you can’t help anyone until you help yourself.

Realize that you are feeling a wide range of emotions and that’s normal. We all deal with trauma differently. Feelings can include anger, fear, grief, numbness, shock, sorrow, and others.

You can help yourself by:

  • Talking about it — Get the support you need from people willing to listen to your concerns. This could be a friend, family member, or a professional.
  • Seeking balance — Remember there is good in the world and grab hold of that. It can help your perspective when things look bleak.
  • Taking breaks — Don’t overexpose yourself to information about what happened. It’s ok to take pauses from consuming images, news, and analysis.
  • Honoring your feelings — You may not be a victim of a traumatic event like a mass shooting, but it affects you. Recognize and respect how it makes you feel.
  • Caring for yourself — If you eat well, exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol, you will be better able to cope with trauma. Use relaxation techniques like meditation to help you sleep.
  • Being productive — Find some way to help those affected. It can help empower you when so many feel powerless.
Woman Talking With Young Girl

Helping Your Kids

Parents and guardians are the first people kids will turn to when they need to feel safe. It doesn’t matter how old children are. You will always be the person who helps them make sense of the world.

It starts with talking. What you say and how you say it depends on their age. But more than anything, they need to know you’re listening.

You may need to start the conversation. That lets them know you care about how they are coping. Talk when you’re in the car together, at bedtime, or dinner. Listen to them and don’t interrupt. Let them say their piece before you respond. Gently correct any misinformation they have, but don’t put down those with different opinions. Let them know it’s OK to disagree while being respectful. Remind them that schools, churches, and other places they go to always tries to keep them safe. Also remind them that you are there to keep them safe and supported.

Kid Sleeping on Father's Chest

Other Ways to Help

  • Keep home a safe place — It’s where all kids go to feel secure. Keep the outside world and its stressors, outside the home.
  • Watch them — Look out for signs of anxiety, fear, or stress. They may lose their appetite, have trouble sleeping, or lose their concentration. Encourage them to identify what they’re feeling and help them work through those feelings.
  • Take breaks — They may be very curious about what happened and want to know more but know when to turn off the news. Make sure to talk with them about what they have seen, heard, or read.
  • Watch what you say — Not just you, but the other conversations by adults in the house. Your kids are always listening, and if they don’t understand something, they might draw their own conclusions which could make things worse.
  • Check in often — Have conversations to gauge their mood and see how they are coping with the situation. Actively listen.

Professional Help Is Here

AltaMed wants you to know you don’t have to do this alone. Our Behavioral Health teams in Los Angeles and Orange County are staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish. All are trained to help you cope with life stressors and get you through a rough time.

We offer short-term therapy to help with any challenge and can link you to mental health services if you need long-term therapy, no matter what age.

To learn more about our services, call us today at (855) 425-1777.

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How to Talk to Your Child About Mass Shootings