My heart is heavy – once again – by the news of El Paso and Dayton. Given that today marks the 250th mass shooting this year, it is imperative we know how to talk with our children about these outrageously horrific and violent events. So here are a couple quick reminders:
1. Find out what they know so you can correct any misperceptions (which is especially common in younger children).
2. Ask them how they feel, and then listen and validate their feelings. “It makes so much sense you’re sad and scared. What happened is frightening and depressing.” [Note that it’s good to share your own similar feelings, but do so in a calm way since kids look to us for reassurance. Don’t over emphasize your own fears and avoid breaking down in front of youth.]
3. Reassure them you will continue to do your best to keep them safe. Remind them there are more good people in the world than bad.
4. Talk about helpful ways people cope with tragedies – things like having faith and praying, talking to others, helping those affected and in need, writing, drawing, etc. Talk about how your family can specifically help.
5. Ask them if they have any questions (even if you don’t have the answers) and let them know you’re open to talking whenever they need to.
Be mindful to take age and cognitive ability into consideration. Here are some quick thoughts to consider:
Generally speaking, children under eight years old should not view any media containing violence. They have a more difficult time differentiating fantasy from reality, making even entertainment violence — let alone the reality of our world —more frightening and anxiety provoking. .At the same time, it’s important we find out what children know about the event. So ask them if they have heard of something bad happening and if so, ask what they know about it so you can correct any misperceptions.
MIDDLE CHILDHOOD (8-11 yrs old)
It is beneficial to avoid frequent media coverage depicting violence at this age as well. If children are exposed to it, it should be minimal and in the presence of an adult who can help them process the information. Otherwise, frequent viewing can have long term effects on their mental health (e.g. anxiety, depression).
Listen, listen, and listen some more to their feelings. And then help them explore solutions; teaching adolescents to work towards change will help them develop resilience.
Additionally, talk with your adolescent about minimizing the use of their smart phone so they do not over expose themselves. Let them know that watching more coverage doesn’t help but actually can cause disruptions in sleep, mood, and performance. This is the case for all of us, by the way.
Amidst the frightening state of our union, may we somehow continue to find a spirit of love, wisdom, and courage as opposed to a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).