Talking to Kids in the Wake of Mass Violence
Whether violence was racialized or not, take these steps to comfort kids
It's okay to not have answers, but silence can be very scary and it can also be very problematic. Why? Because kids, especially little kids when you're left to create a narrative, when little kids are trying to make sense of what is going on, on their own and if they are already anxious or anxiously disposed, the narratives that they end up developing is often one that only emboldens anxiety and fear.
Dr. Anatasia Kim
If you are looking for immediate guidance on how to talk with your child about violence, racialized or not, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind from an EmbraceRace webinar with Dr. Anatasia Kim:
Take a moment to steady yourself, feel your feelings, and think your thoughts around the act of violence. Seek out support from your own social network if needed. Be prepared to share your feelings and thinking with your child.
Begin by asking your child what they have heard and/or read (“What have you heard or read?”), how they are feeling (“How are you feeling?”), and what they think (“What are you thinking?”). Build on what they are thinking and feeling, providing additional information to provide a fuller and accurate picture, as appropriate for the age of your child.
In age-appropriate ways, share your thoughts and feelings with your child. Be transparent about your tough emotions and possibly your not knowing what to do. By sharing your feelings, you help to normalize and affirm big feelings about traumatic events and to create space for your child to discuss those big feelings with you.
Expect and accept non-closure. We can’t heal children’s fear, anger, or anxiety (or our own) with one conversation. What we can do is provide a reliable source of support and open communication, check in with children, and pay attention to their nonverbal signals for when they may need extra support or patience.
For more detailed guidance on how to talk with your child about violence and traumatic events, find more resources below.
- Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting by the American Psychological Association
- APA Resources for coping with mass shootings, understanding gun violence by the American Psychological Association