Healthy You - Every Day

For Families: How to Talk With Your Child After a Mass Shooting Incident

Pediatric team from Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital offers advice to parents to help children cope

Pediatric team from Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital offers advice to parents to help children cope

After a mass shooting incident, parents grapple with questions, concerns and fears that their children have. Here’s some advice to help you speak with your children about what happened and help them process a tragedy like mass shooting in a school.

  1. Prepare yourself. Keep in mind that it may be difficult for both you and your child to talk about these events.
  2. Take breaks during the conversation if needed. Your child may need time to think about questions and process their feelings.
  3. Be mindful of place and time. If possible, talk with your child in a place that is comfortable for them, and when you both have time to talk.
  4. Listen first. Ask your child to share with you what they already know about the event and what thoughts and feelings they have.
  5. Support their feelings. Let your child know that feelings such as fear, sadness and anger are natural, and that they may experience different feelings as time passes. Remind them that they can always come to you. You may also share that you are experiencing some of these feelings as well.
  6. Address questions and concerns. Ask your child what questions, worries or fears they have. Do your best to answer questions in a way that is appropriate for their age or level of understanding. Younger children require more simple and concrete information, while older children may appreciate more detailed information. Adolescents may want to vent about their feelings – allow them time and space to share.
  7. It’s OK to say you don’t know. If your child asks a question you can’t answer, it’s OK to say you’re not sure. It’s also OK to acknowledge that some questions don’t have good answers. Reassure your child that you will do your best to answer the questions they have.
  8. Talk about ways to stay safe. Talk with your child about ways that they can help keep themselves safe – examples might include being aware of their surroundings, locking doors and not sharing personal information.
  9. Remind them that there are people who will keep them safe. Reassure them that you and other trusted adults such as family members, teachers, school staff, coaches, faith leaders etc., are all helping to keep them safe at home, in school and in other public places.
  10. Create a plan. Work with your child to develop a plan of action for times when they may become worried or fearful. This may involve practicing a conversation to tell peers they don’t want to talk about the event, limiting news coverage and/or social media, or seeking out a trusted adult at school or other activities. Communicate this plan with other supportive adults as needed.
  11. Remain open and observe. Your child may need to talk about these events more than once. Be sure to check in with them to ask how they are feeling, if they’d like to talk again, or if they have more questions. Keep an eye out for signs that they are becoming more upset.
  12. Take action if more support is needed. Make sure your child knows that they can come to you or another trusted adult if they need help or if they are concerned about a peer. Consult your child’s physician or a mental health professional for more support.

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