Best ways to inform children in wake of recent mass shootings

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The images are hard to ignore; two mass shootings in one weekend.

Experts say one group who shouldn’t ignore the tragedies are parents and caretakers.

“It’s really important for them to give the facts of what happened in an age appropriate way. Knowing how to explain in that won’t be too upsetting to a child, but in a way the child will understand,” said Alison Burke.

Burke is a licensed clinical social worker with Triangle Family Services. She says it is a good idea for parents and caretakers to talk to their children about the deadly shootings, even if the child hasn’t asked on their own. 

Burke says it’s likely the child has already seen a report on the news, or on social media, or heard it from a friend. It’s possible they could have inaccurate, or not all of the information. She suggests limiting their exposure.

“The child can feel like ‘oh it’s so horrible that they’re not talking about it,’ and they can feel even more scared,” Burke said.

Burke says smaller children especially might worry if they, or someone they love, could become a shooting victim. She suggests explaining to the child the likelihood of something happening.

“Unfortunately we can’t say to kids, ‘this is never going to happen to you.’ We would love to say that, but that’s not accurate. But we can say the likelihood is low,” said Burke.

To explain the concept of “likelihood,” Burke uses the weather.

“We talk about percent chance of rain happening.  So if it’s a 40 percent chance, or a 10 percent chance, that’s different than 100 percent chance,” she said.

For older children, Burke recommends explaining the family has a plan if a mass shooting or tragedy were to impact them and to review the plan with them.

“Let the teenager know ‘we do have a place if there’s a crisis.  It’s not likely, but we do have a plan in place,'” Burke said.

When it comes to the tough question of ‘why’ someone would commit a mass shooting, Burke recommends parents answer from their belief system.

“It’s kind of like, well why do people die,” said Burke. “Some parents would want to answer that a certain way that other parents wouldn’t want to answer that. One parent may say ‘because they are evil.’ Another parent might say ‘because they have mental health problems.'”

Burke says it a good idea for parents to talk about their own feelings, which can help kids better understand what they are feeling.

She says it’s not uncommon for children to get anxious or distracted, but if the child really starts to worry about going to school or other activities, parents should seek help.

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