May 26, 2022 - News

How to talk to kids about school shootings

Illustration of a child's silhouette surrounded by colored shapes and lines
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With the news of a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, opening fire at an elementary school on Tuesday and killing 19 students and two teachers, parents and guardians across the country are yet again faced with the potential of talking to their children about gun violence and school shootings.

What they're saying: Tracy Vozar, a University of Denver associate professor and director of the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Specialty, told Axios Denver there are a few tactics parents and guardians should consider:

What to know: The first thing to acknowledge is a child's age. Children ages 8 and younger may not watch the news. Still, they might hear accounts of the attack elsewhere, including at school.

  • "It's a positive sign if they come to parents or caregivers to talk about it," Vozar said.

Be smart: Approach a kid with a question like: "Is there anything you want to talk about?" to get a conversation going.

  • Making time to talk about what happened before a child goes back to class is helpful no matter their age — while reminding them that they're safe at school.
  • Vozar suggests checking in with kids, adding that conversations can overlap with other activities, like a walk or a playground visit.
  • She further suggests keeping an eye on whether a child acts anxious or distracted.

Of note: "The ongoing coverage can cause fear and anxiety that children do not have the skills to process," Park Hill Elementary principal Ken Burdette wrote to families, as reported in Axios Finish Line.

Between the lines: Kids are observant. They may notice you're upset, too, Vozar said.

  • "It's okay to label those emotions to kids, it's positive," she added.
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