Coping with the Las Vegas Shooting: How to Talk to Your Kids
What About the Children?
Ben King and Laurel Roe, staff therapists at CFR, share their insights below on how to talk to your kids about the shooting in Las Vegas this week.
- “I am so upset that my children are growing up in this world.”
- “How do I explain what is happening to my children? I don’t even understand it myself and I am an adult.”
- “I am so sad and confused. Children shouldn’t have to deal with this”
These are a few examples of the things I have heard from family, friends and clients over the past few days. I, too, have had similar thoughts and feelings in light of the recent tragedy in Las Vegas. As adults, we are aware of how the seemingly endless stream of news about natural disasters and violence takes a toll on us. Many of us are feeling depleted emotionally and even physically — how, then, are we supposed to help our children when we are unable find our own footing? There are a few things we can be mindful of to help children during this difficult time:
- Children have different needs depending on their ages, but all children need a safe place to ask questions, to express their emotions, and to talk about their fears. As much as is possible, children want to know their world is unchanged, the people they care about are ok, and that they are safe. Providing honest reassurances that focus on their emotions and their personal experience will help them feel supported and secure. Let them know they are not alone: many people have similar questions and may be feeling just as they are. Acknowledge whatever they are feeling is normal and there is not one “right” way to experience what is happening in our world.
- Share your feelings with your children in a way that helps them know you are going through this experience with them. When children have questions about what they see on the news or what they hear from their friends, answer them in a calm factual way, keeping their age in mind. While specific details of events may not be necessary or appropriate, understand older children and teenagers may focus on details as a way of working through their own emotions and as a way of understanding. Do not sensationalize the events or make up information: it is okay to truthfully answer “I don’t know.” Guide them toward information that shows people helping others at this time as a way to show them that goodness is still present in bad times.
- Consistency and structure help children feel safe, so keeping routines as unchanged as possible helps reduce feelings of anxiety and confusion. While very young children (under the age of 18 months) may not be aware of specific events occurring in the world, they are attuned to what is happening in their household. Consistency in routines and in emotional connection are important for all children.
- If possible, spend a little more time together doing the things you like to do as a family. It is important to engage in family rituals (such as “taco Tuesday,” movie night, or adding an extra bedtime story) in times of stress. Consider limiting news programs and access to on-line information; replace news radio while driving with children in the car with music they enjoy.
While we may believe we are unable to make sense of what is happening in the world around us, we are able to make sense of what matters most to our children and to our families. Creating opportunities for your children to express their questions, worries, and emotions lets them know you are there for them. Providing predictability and structure during times of uncertainty will help your children feel safe and loved.
Laurel Roe, M.S CHR, MFT
215-382-6680 x 4444
In the wake of the devastating shooting in Las Vegas this week, there are a lot of posts about how to cope. The number one priority should be getting to a place mentally and emotionally where you can have interactions that are close to normal. However, for many of you it goes further: you have kids and might have no idea how to handle this situation with them.
Here are a few pieces of advice for how to talk to your children about what happened:
- Don’t let younger children watch news coverage. For a child, news footage can be frightening and disturbing. Images or sound bites can make it even more confusing or upsetting, and have a tendency to become flashbulb memories (similar to crystal clear memories of 9/11). Be calm when turning the channel so they learn to manage their reactions similarly.
- Keep your message simple and realistic. Most children won’t be able to understand or process all angles and perspectives. They also will benefit from a realistic explanation; something as simple as “A bad person chose to hurt other people” will be good enough for many. Anticipate them to ask questions too, and it’s okay if you tell them you don’t know the answers.
- Emphasize how others are keeping us safe, and the good things. Simply stating that someone bad is hurting others might lead your kids to feeling helpless and scared. To balance it out, focus more on how law enforcement and others are responding so that they will protect us, and specifically your child. Also make a point to talk about regular, good people that are helping; those at the concert, or the many that are supporting the families of individuals who were hurt.
- Allow and encourage your children to help. A lot of children will want to help in some way when they hear people have been hurt. Whether this is their idea of sending an affected family one of their stuffed animals, writing a letter, or donating their allowance, it will give the child a sense that they can do something to make the world a better place.
The most important part to keep in mind is that you are a model for how your children will learn how to deal with stress, and how to look at the world. If you are hysterical and hopeless, your child will learn that this is how to deal with awful events. Similarly if you ignore or don’t allow speaking about the shooting, you are teaching that one shouldn’t talk about traumatic events. However, if you are calm and focus on how your child is safe, and there are still mostly good people in the world, they will learn this is how one copes.
We all want our children to grow up with a sense of control and resilience, so use these points to teach them exactly that.
Ben King, MFT