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5 tips on talking to your kid about gun violence

When safe spaces feel like scary places
Brightline Logo Mark Orange
Brightline team

May 26, 2022

Mass shooting tragedies can be overwhelming to process and cause all of us to experience intense feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, and even powerlessness or hopelessness. Families should not live in fear of dropping their kids off at school, going to the grocery store, or visiting any public space.

The Brightline care team shares expert tips on how you can process gun violence as a family, especially when school feels like a scary place.

1. First things first — check in on yourself.

These events are traumatic for parents and caregivers — full stop. It’s important for you to recognize and feel your emotions, especially before navigating these tough conversations with your kid. Give yourself grace, and think about whether it’s time to take a break from social media or conversations with friends and colleagues. As much as you want to be informed, supporting your family means supporting your own wellbeing, too.

2. Create space for conversation — when your child is ready.

Your child might not be ready to talk about how they’re feeling right away, and that’s okay. Make space to comfort them and ensure they feel safe — let them know that you’ve made time for them and are here to listen to their concerns when they are ready. Start the conversation with open-ended questions like, “Do you want to talk about the shooting in Colorado Springs?” or “How can I make you feel comfortable or safe while we talk about this?” Allow them to talk as little or as much as they’re comfortable.

3. Speak directly about what has happened.

It will probably feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to be direct about the reality of this extreme violence. Children are exposed to so much between social media, the news, and their peers. Being sensitive to your child’s age is also key: You can support and educate younger kids with the language they may already know without being explicit or graphic. For older kids especially, remember that it’s likely they’ve already heard about the shooting on social media or through friends.

4. Reflect on what’s in your and their control.

You and your child may feel fear or anxiety about attending school or social gatherings. You can validate their emotions by acknowledging the risk, and redirecting conversations to what they can control. Think of home safety or fire plans as an example — talk them through the steps they could take if something were to happen to help make them feel more secure and in control.

5. Normalize a reaction to traumatic events.

You may see a change in your child’s behavior — and this is normal. When we experience trauma, our body experiences the instinct of fight-flight-or-freeze without the presence of actual danger. Over time, those false alarms should naturally stop. Make space for your kid to naturally learn how to recover with your love and support. After 30 days (the time frame of a natural recovery) has passed, if your child (or you) is still experiencing disruptive behavior to your day-to-day life, therapy can help rebuild trust and feelings of safety.

If you need more support, please visit the link here to chat with a Brightline coach or therapist 1:1 based on your family’s needs.

Or tune into our free pre-recorded support session with experts to process the impact of gun violence here.