Talking to kids about mass shootings

Talking to kids about mass shootings

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -It’s a harsh reality but for many parents it’s necessary to discuss tragedies like the ones that happened in Ohio and Texas with their kids.

Although adults have to process their emotions, as well, it’s not unlikely that recent shootings will raise questions for children like:

  • Who would do such a thing?
  • Am I safe?

“All I know is that at this point, I am going to have to step up my game of trying to protect him in this world,” said Alexis Foy, a local mother.

As for starting that conversation, licensed child counselor Scott Riviere said any decision you make on sharing information should be based on whether it will make your child feel safe and secure.

“It’s important for your kids to feel like they have somebody in their life that they can go to and talk about anything, whether it be worry that an event could happen here or feelings of anger or sadness that our out of their control," said Riviere.

Alexis Foy is the single mother of 7-month old, Braxton. She said she’s afraid of bringing him up in a world where mass shootings happen so frequently.

“Growing up, we’d watch all kinds of cartoons. We didn’t have to worry about the news because nothing big was happening," said Foy.

Along with explaining these events to children, parents are tasked with teaching life saving practices, sooner rather than later. Foy’s father, Freddy, says he’s made it a practice to make sure his family is prepared.

“In my line of work, I had to learn first aid, CPR and all that stuff and when I came home, I made it a game with my kids to teach them that. It’s something they’ll know the rest of their lives because they learned it at a young age," Freddy said.

Riviere said with topics such as shootings, it’s best to let your child’s maturity level guide the discussion.

“When you go through an event like this, it kind of challenges your assumptions about the world...it’s not uncommon when you have incidents like this that not only kids and teenagers but adults as well become a little more anxious than they were before.”

He listed the following suggestions when bringing up these conversations with your child:

Talk to your children

Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers and local police.

Young children may communicate their fears through play or drawings. Elementary school children will use a combination of play and talking to express themselves. Adolescents are more likely to have the skills to communicate their feelings and fears verbally. Adults should be attentive to a child’s concerns, but also try to help the children put their fears into proportion to the real risk. Again, it is important to reassure children that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to make their environment — school, home and neighborhood — safe for them.

Limit exposure to news coverage

Parents should also monitor how much exposure a child has to news reports of traumatic events, including these recent school shootings. Research has shown that some young children believe that the events are reoccurring each time they see a television replay of the news footage.

Know the warning signs

Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager might need more assistance. Such indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy. Also remember that every child will respond to trauma differently. Some will have no ill effects; others may suffer an immediate and acute effect. Still others may not show signs of stress until sometime after the event.

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