How do I talk with my child about gun violence in schools?

When it comes to discussing harder topics like gun violence in schools with kids, children’s...
When it comes to discussing harder topics like gun violence in schools with kids, children’s author Julia Cook says it’s best to see what your child knows before proceeding.(WBKO)
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 10:42 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - When it comes to discussing harder topics like gun violence in schools with kids, children’s author Julia Cook, who visited Cumberland Trace Elementary Wednesday, says it’s best to see what your child knows before proceeding.

“Never say, ‘oh, we had a horrible shooting in the neighboring county,’ look at your child and say, ‘something really sad happened in our world yesterday, and if you need to talk about it, you can always ask me,’” Cook said.

A sentiment echoed by father Jerry Moten, who also advises parents to reflect and gather their own thoughts on the issue before approaching their children.

“Kids are really smart nowadays, they understand a lot more than what we realize,” Moten said. “So I just try to have a good, open dialogue about race, loving each other, being kind, all those good things.”

While the topic can be hard to discuss, both Moten and Cook agreed it’s a conversation they think is necessary.

“There’s always a great way to say even the worst thing if you look for it,” Cook said. “All topics are hard, dying, gun violence, cancer, but there’s always a way that you can say it to your child and fit where their knowledge base is.”

“Things could always be heavy, no matter what it is you talked about,” Moten said. “You just have to kind of get to know your kid what their capabilities are, how they respond to things.

In regards to what to say, Moten and Cook also agreed, it’s better to instill confidence than fear.

“I tell [my son] to just follow your teacher. My son is a very loyal kid, so he said that ‘if somebody starts shooting, I’m gonna get all my friends out first’,” Moten said. “I’m like, ‘well, you’ve got to do what the teacher says first, and then help your friends if you can’.”

“If you don’t know how to answer, and you don’t feel comfortable with that, you’re not supposed to have all the answers all the time,” Cook said. “As a parent, you could say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any words for that answer, But I’m going to figure it out, you and I will sit down, and we’ll talk about it later’.”

Cook details how to help children cope with disaster and anxiety in her book “The Ant Hill Disaster,” she advises:

  • Remain calm and reassuring - create an environment where children will feel comfortable asking questions.
  • Always answer a child’s questions truthfully with simple answers. You don’t need to go into more detail than necessary, but lying to your children or making up facts will ultimately confuse them. Eventually, when they find out the truth about what happened, they may struggle with trusting you in the future.
  • You may be asked to repeat your answers several times. Be consistent in your reply, and realize that your repetitive answers are reassuring your child’s “need to know” and building upon their sense of security.
  • Children often feel out of control when disasters occur. Sticking with a familiar routine is very important when trying to re-establish the security of feeling in control.
  • Acknowledge and normalize your child’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Help children understand why they feel this way.
  • Encourage kids to talk about disaster-related events on their terms. Never force a child to ask a question or to talk about an incident until they are ready.
  • Reassure your child that many people out there are helping those who are hurting. You may want to let your child make a card for someone who is suffering. Giving to those in need of support allows a child to feel like they can make a difference in helping with a terrible situation.
  • Keep your child away from watching news stations and listening to the radio where the disaster is being discussed and replayed. Sensationalizing the events that have occurred will only upset and confuse your child further.
  • Promote positive coping and problem-solving skills.
  • Emphasize children’s resiliency. Fortunately, most children, even those who are exposed to trauma, are quite resilient.
  • Children who are preoccupied with questions and concerns about safety should be evaluated by a trained mental health professional.
  • Strengthen friendship and peer support, and foster supportive relationships. There is strength in numbers!
  • Take care of your own needs. In order to be there for others, you have to take care of yourself.
  • Advanced preparation and immediate response will help with healing and coping.
  • All schools have safety plans in place that are continually being evaluated and updated. Explain to your child that this is a good thing.

More information on Cook and her stories can be found on her website.