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How to Talk to your Children about Shootings and other Tragedies – Age Guide

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Unfortunately, these are happening too often.  You turn on the news and another mass shooting or tragedy has occurred. We constantly tell our kids that you are safe at school, but when something like this occurs, how do you explain what happened to our little ones?

Although there is no one perfect way to approach this issue, there are ways to address the issue depending on the child’s age and temperament. It’s difficult to wrap our minds around it and process our own feelings as adults, but we need to manage those feelings before approaching our kids. How we react will affect our children more than what we say, according to parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa.

If the family is not directly affected, the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association advise to avoid discussions until they can process the information, about the age of 8. Of course, it also depends on the child’s temperament, what they can understand and whether they will hear about it from others.

Following is a recommended guideline provided by  Dr. Deborah Gilboa.

3-6 Years old (Preschool and Kindergarten) – One Sentence story

Keep your story short and simple. No specifics should be detailed and it is a great time to remind them of the parent’s beliefs. A simple line of how a bad person ended up hurting people could be enough. Or that a brave person helped many people during a bad situation.

7-10 Years Old (elementary school) – Shield Them

Kids are very inquisitive and can have many questions regarding an event. Gilboa recommends keeping negative images and photos away from them as these would leave a longer lasting memory than words. As with the young ones, focus on the positive interactions of the situation can help them calm any fears.

11-13 Years Old (Tweens) – Listen to them

Start by asking them what they have heard and how they feel about it. This will help guide any parent in how they want to steer and address the conversation. It’s a good time to share and communicate beliefs and gain a better understanding of how your tween is feeling and thinking.

14+ (Teens) – Find Solutions

Ask them what they have heard and how they feel. They are more likely to ask what can be done or is being done so that situation can be fixed. You can direct them to think of ways to make a change or would be effective in thwarting this type of situation again. Think of ways in which they can be involved in helping themselves and others.


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