As I awoke Monday listening to the radio I was shocked, dismayed, and saddened to learn of the horrible shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. I immediately thought about my children: Will they come home talking about it? Will they hear about Las Vegas on the bus? Will their teachers talk about it?
As a parent with children who are growing older, I realize that I cannot shield them from such acts of hate and violence. It seems these events occur with greater frequency.
Many are looking to social media to express condolences, give a prayer, or to share their grief. Such expressions are needed as we learn that almost 60 people are dead and over 500 people were injured in Las Vegas. I was relieved to learn a friend was safe after attending the music festival where the shooting occurred because of information on Facebook. As we Americans experience the 24-hour news cycle of this deadly event, our children will hear about Las Vegas. Kids will talk about it in school and talk about what they saw on television: hundreds of helpless people shot at by a gunman.
Adults are able to respond in healthy ways, but what about children? How are we to talk to children about traumatic events? How are we to talk about violence? Here are four ways you can respond and talk to your children.
Keep Calm. Younger children may not hear much or anything about the trauma but keep to your family routine. Kids will look to adults and parents on how to act. If you act different children will see it. Older children might have seen the trauma on television and they will observe if their parents are freaking out about it. If possible, turn off the television and keep children focused on regular activities: games, bike riding, homework, sports, music etc… Your ability to keep calm will help your children.
Listen. Children may have questions. Leave time to listen to their concerns. Children may ask, “Will this happen to me?” Or, “Will this happen again?”. The important thing to remember is to give children your attention and not to avoid the subject.
Respond. Do not lie to children about what happened. Keep it simple. Focus on the basic facts of what happened. In Las Vegas, for instance, say that someone hurt a group of people during an event. Continue to share with children how much they are loved and how they are safe. Tell them good leaders take care of people when people are hurt (doctors, police, firefighters, etc…). Remind children that we take care of one another. For older teenagers, talk to them about violence and how it impacts our culture and world. Older youth study history lessons with war in school and may even play violent video games. Help them to see violence as a harmful and wrong way to handle conflict.
Empower. Older children can learn from the trauma. Remind and tell the stories of heroism. Encourage your kids to help others. For instance, if someone is being bullied at lunch teach them what to do or tell them how to get help from an adult. Teach them how to call 911 when needed. When some time has passed from the trauma, have your family practice what to do when someone needs help.
All of these suggestions cannot be accomplished in one day. It’s important that these steps may take days and even weeks. How to talk to kids about violence trauma is extremely important. Adults should not avoid the topic but reinforce how much children are loved and that they are safe. Evil is in the world but we are called to vanquish evil with the light of God and the goodness we can bring to those in need.