How I Talk to My Kids About Mass Shootings

How sad is this?  That I have come to a point in which I have to write a post about mass shootings for my children.  And for other mothers–that if…well not if…but WHEN they Google ‘How to talk to my kids about mass shootings’ they may run across this.

Homeschooling is unique in that our children are with us most every moment, most everyday.  I, personally, do not shelter my children 100% from the news.  I’m very cautious, but often times, like today, ‘breaking news’ cannot be avoided.

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I often would just say ‘something bad happened…turn it off, let’s get back to work’.  However, with the Boston Bombing, Sandy Hook, and countless other mass terror or shooting incidences that saturate every moment of television and social media, my husband and I felt we could honestly help our children through the questions they had.  My sons would come back to the questions about ‘what happened’ time and time again that day, and it was too late to brush it under the rug.  So, starting with Sandy Hook, we began a dialogue.  Our is from a Christ-centered perspective, but I’m going to be as neutral as possible to help our secular friends as well.

I can see that my near 7 year old turns his eyes to the TV.  He sees the news anchor has my undivided attention.  Then, the questions begin.  Here they are, and here’s how I answer them.

“What happened, Mom?”

I hold his hand and my nearly 5 year old comes near.  “Someone got very mad and used a gun to take out his anger on others.  He killed some people and the police and ambulances are hurrying to help.”

“Why did he get so mad?”

The look in my son’s eyes is that of such innocence.  True anger is something that he’s only experienced a handful of times on a very small scale.  Explaining mental illness to my young sons is very difficult.  “Some people turn to hurting others instead of turning to friends or God.  It would have been better if he talked about how he was feeling to a friend or a parent or a neighbor.  However, sweetie, he didn’t.  He made the wrong decision and now, people died.  It’s a very sad thing when adults decide to be so mean to each other.”

“Are guns bad?  We play with guns.”

My sons love their Nerf guns.  I grew up in the country and guns and hunting were a part of everyday life.  Of course, that was years before Columbine and the mass shootings that make us all nervous in crowded spaces these days.  I ask him…”Do you think guns are bad?”

“No, I just like to play with them, I wouldn’t shoot a person.” 

I can see his young soul is trying to understand.  I wish he were 18 before we NEEDED to have this talk.  “I know you would never hurt or shoot someone with a gun.”  I hug him.  “We know lots of people who have fun with guns, like you, daddy, and grandpa.  They enjoy hunting animals and practicing with a target.  However, some people make very wrong decisions with their guns and these things happen.”

“Did they kill kids too?”

This is very delicate.  My husband and I feel our children can handle complete honesty because we’ve spoken with them about children dying before.  “Sometimes, yes, children are killed also.  I do not know if any died today.”

“How does that make you feel?”  I asked them.  “Sad….sad for those kids.  That’s terrible.”  I can see they try to empathize, but of course, they don’t fully understand death yet.  You may need to handle it differently depending on your child’s history of life experiences.

“Did they catch the bad guy?” 

I usually always answers this with a yes.  We explain he will go to jail or sometimes explain the police had to shoot their guns to protect other people from getting hurt.  At our children’s age, I don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about suicide yet.  Of course, you know your child best.  I will often pull out a map to show my kids how far it is happening from us, so that they feel safe.

“Will that ever happen here?”

That question.  It gives me goosebumps.  Don’t we all just wonder when it will happen close to home?  It happens so much, you have to wonder…where next?  Here’s how I answer:  “I hope not.  However, if it did, we know that the Lord has a purpose for us everyday.  Mommy and Daddy will do everything we can to protect you.  However, that happened very far from here and we don’t need to worry about anything like that happening to us.”

My children need that sort of answer.  If you have teens, I think I would go the extra mile to talk about how to react in that situation and what to do.  Knowledge is power.

By this time my children have lost patience and they are off to play.  I *hope* I used the right words that bring them comfort and love.  Here are a few guidelines I feel help when talking to your children, young or old about these things:

  • Know your kids and base your conversation and answers on their emotions and individual needs
  • Honesty.  I think in some form, we need to be honest with our children.
  • Ask questions.  Make sure to see how they are feeling OFTEN during the conversation.  This will help you gauge whether you keep talking, cut it short, or if they are getting scared.
  • Keep calm.  If CNN makes you super emotional, perhaps hold off talking to your kids until you are more calm.  I remember being very concerned and stressed when my parents showed emotion as a child.
  • Don’t over-do it.  Although we might want to stay glued to Fox News all day and get every last detail, our children do NOT need that.  Get the gist, have the talk, turn it off.
  • Don’t re-hash on phone calls with friends.  I have a bad habit of being Ms. Hallmark card when I talk to my kids and then showing my true emotions while talking with friends on the phone.  My boys totally overhear it and all my caution with them goes out the window.  Watch your words all the time.
  • Make it a teachable moment.  Whether Christian or not, young or old, brave or timid–this is the time to talk with your child.  Mental illness, suicide, mass shooting, gun control, God, evil, fear.  Isn’t this WHY we homeschool?  To allow ourselves to guide our children in every way?  These issues should be near the top of our ‘teaching bucket list’.
  • Show them good.  Missionaries.  Healing.  People giving their time.  The first responders, police officers, fire fighters, hospitals, and family that help us on a daily basis.  In tragedy or in everyday life, remind your children how much beauty and good there is in the world and these stories are on TV because they are rare.

I’m sorry you’ve found this.  I’m sorry we’re having this conversation AGAIN.  However, I’m thankful my children are at home with me when they hear this news.  I have the opportunity to be with them and walk them through their questions instead of a friend at school.  I feel blessed and honored to guide them even in the rough patches of life.

Have a beautiful evening, my friends!

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I too believe in being as honest as possible. My motto is “it is what it is”. Of course I think words should be chosen wisely and I loved all your responses. All children are different and it’s important as a parent to tell them as much as we feel they can handle without causing them stress. I also agree that knowledge is power and it seems in this day and time we are going to have to prepare our children for these types of situations and pray it never happens. It’s always better to know what to do but hope you never have to do it. Thank you for your post. I know this is a question on lots of parents minds. I pray for peace and comfort for all those affected by this terribly tragedy today.

    • Thank you Tammy! I know being so honest isn’t the right decision for every child or every family, but I hope this can let parents know we don’t need to sugar coat everything. God’s Peace to you sweet friend!

  2. We do discuss VERY honestly and openly in this home. I do also feel that being a homeschooler many think we are trying to shield our children,…but in away is that not our job? There is a big difference between allowing your children to be raised in a bubble of naivety and allowing them to know this very challenging world we live in while holding our hand. My sons are almost 9 and just 5 and 1. Thank you for sharing this we need to support each other in finding that balance of honesty and shelter.
    Something I saw and I use now, is to focus on the hero’s. Apparently this came from Mr Roger’s Mom. Anytime something bad happens if you look close you will see a hero, give thanks for that hero. So now when my kids come in during the gasps and moans that often accompany the evening news, we look for the hero’s.

  3. Thank you for sharing this post, Liz! Even at my kids’ ages (18, 16, and 10) it’s hard to talk to them about this kind of thing. It’s hard for me as a parent too! Unfortunately, though, it’s necessary, and I appreciate your post.

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