America and the world are mourning the lives recently lost to gun violence and offering condolences to all those affected by the most recent string of mass shootings. Trying to wrap our heads around how or why these events happen can be challenging. It follows that if you have questions about this violence then your child probably does too. Having a conversation with your child about terrorism can be daunting, especially when it feels like you don’t have the answers they’re seeking. Nonetheless, it is crucial to address the concerns of those growing up in this age of terror as it may guide their understanding of death and tragedy. Although we can’t control world events, deepening our understanding helps us know how best to respond to them which might help reduce feelings of fear.
Dr. Jillian Roberts suggests limiting your child’s exposure to media coverage about the shootings, but to be prepared to talk about and process these occurrences together. Here are her tips for how to respond to a child when they ask why this happens:
1. Make sure that you are fully present for the conversation so the child knows their questions are important to you. This means putting down or shutting off any devices that could be distracting.
2. Thank them for bringing this up and asking questions about it. Showing them that you are appreciative of their openness will hopefully encourage them to continue asking you the difficult questions that arise in the future.
3. Empathize and validate the emotions that they are expressing – try saying something like “I can understand that times like these feel confusing and scary for you, and it makes sense for you to feel that way. I feel the same.”
4. Remember that it’s okay to admit that you don’t fully understand why there are bad people who want to hurt others, either. Try to emphasize that for every bad person there are many, many more good people that come together and help those who are hurting.
5. Try to instill hope in the child. Explain how difficult times grant us the opportunity to be brave and become stronger. As heartbreaking as these events are, communities come together to show each other kindness and compassion as a way to get through it.
It might be tempting to lose hope considering the seemingly-constant stream of bad news that we are exposed to. Mr. Rogers famously told us to “look for the helpers” in times of tragedy, to show us that there is light in the darkness. As difficult as these conversations may be, instilling this sense of hope in the children of today is essential to move forward. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you think that you, your family, or community need help to get through this – we can’t go it alone, and we shouldn’t have to.