How to talk to your kids about violence

Parents–it’s your instinct to protect your kids. When horrific violence like what happened in Orlando this past weekend takes place, it’s only natural to want to shield your child or children from it.

But with social media chronicling everything from silly cat videos to NASA landing on Mars, that’s just impossible.

According to a report from Common Sense media, teens spend up to nine hours per day using social media. A simple google search of the hashtag #Orlando turns up about 339,000,000 results (0.77 seconds). The images and the stories of that violence are everywhere.

Child development experts agree that parents should be prepared to talk about any questions their children might have and to answer them as honestly as possible. The story of the Orlando shooting is a very tricky story to tell–it involves so many heavy topics including gun violence, homophobia, ISIS, radical religious beliefs and most importantly, safety in our own communities.

So start by remembering that it’s OK to not have all the answers. It’s also important to keep as calm of a demeanor as you can, because your kids will pick up and respond to your cues. Trust your instincts–kids are in different places with their level of anxiety and vulnerability, and you know you child or children best.

  • Ask your child what he/she has heard: It’s a starting place for conversation that allows you to get an understanding of what they know without giving away too much information.
  • Encourage their questions: “Why would someone do that?,” a child might ask. There are many and complicated answers to this question. Tailor your answers based upon age group. For pre-teens and younger, it’s best to keep the answer short and digestible. For teens, it’s OK to get into more details and carry on more of a dialogue.
  • Communicate regularly: If you don’t signal to your kids that it’s OK to talk about violence and other tough topics, you’re signaling to them that these subjects are taboo and they’ll likely go elsewhere looking for answers to their questions.
  • Respond to the tragedy as a family: Consider making a donation, doing volunteer work or lighting a candle in memory of the people who died.

Most importantly, tell them that you love them. You can’t say it too often.