America’s stunning failure to respond to gun violence was spotlighted – again – May 31, 2019 when DeWayne Craddock fatally shot twelve people and wounded five others in a mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach. The longtime city engineer was later shot dead by police officers responding to the scene.
In our children’s eyes, the U.S. is often viewed as this great humanitarian model for the rest of the world in so many arenas, but when it comes to gun violence we do nothing, we just shake our heads and say our thoughts and prayers and wait for the next one to happen.
Children’s lives are touched by trauma on a regular basis, no matter how much parents or teachers try to keep the “bad things” away. Instead of shielding children from the dangers, violence or tragedies around us, adults should talk to kids about what is happening.
The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure.
As much as adults may try to avoid difficult topics, children often learn or know when something sad or scary happens. If adults don’t talk to them about it, a child may overestimate what is wrong or misunderstand adults’ silence. So, be the first to bring up the difficult topic. When parents tackle difficult conversations, they let their children know that they are available and supportive.
Some advanced planning may make the discussion easier. You won’t have to think about it off the top of your head.
Find a quiet place to where your children can be the center of your attention. Ask them “What have you heard about this?” And then listen. Listen. Listen. And listen more.
Tell the truth. Lay out the facts at a level they can understand. You do not need to give graphic details.
For young children, you may need to have the conversation about what death means (no longer feel anything, not hungry, thirsty, scared, or hurting; we will never see them again, but can hold their memories in our hearts and heads).
Say, “I don’t know.” Sometimes the answer to the question is “I don’t know.” “Why did the bad people do this?” “I don’t know” fits.
At the end of the conversation, reassure your children that you will do everything you know how to do to keep them safe and to watch out for them. Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this topic again in the future. Reassure them that they are loved.