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In the Aftermath of Gun Violence: Talking to Your Kids About Robb Elementary

Don't forget the little eyes watching the TV screen. How you talk to your child after a tragedy like Robb Elementary matters.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
May 25, 2022
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5 min
Minute Read

Ten years ago, I found myself grappling with the tragic violence of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Today, tragically, we are revisiting this nightmare on behalf of the children at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.  

On May 24, 19 children and two staff members were killed by a gunman who entered the school. The shooting is the second deadliest school shooting in American history, second to Sandy Hook.

Grieving, fear, and outrage have gripped people everywhere, especially parents. Especially parents of elementary-aged kids.

I often say don’t parent out of fear, but I also know that sometimes parents feel fear, and that’s OK, especially on a day like today following such a horrific event.

Maybe you felt afraid sending your child to school this morning. Maybe you had your child stay home. Maybe you’re wondering if you will ever live in a world where you can feel safe and secure sending your child to school, or if the only solution is keeping your child home all the time safe in your care.

However you’re feeling today, whatever thoughts you are having, they are valid. Give yourself space to feel what you feel. Give yourself the day off if you need to and can. Go for a walk. Talk to a friend. When the tears come, let them. When children die, we all grieve.

In the wake of tragedy, I often reiterate how to talk to your kids about it. Don’t forget the little eyes watching the T.V. screen, seeing what you’re looking at on social media, and overhearing your conversations. Even if your child hasn’t heard about this shooting from you, he will likely hear about it elsewhere. This is why it’s important to know how to address tragedy with your child.

1.    Initiate the conversation.

Don’t wait until they come to you. Your child has likely heard about this event or will soon. Initiating discussion won’t put ideas or fears in their minds; talking them through will help alleviate their fears.

2.    Use simple language.

You can say that someone who was very disturbed did something that hurt other people. You don’t have to get into the details. Just plainly state a bad thing happened to good people.

3.    Talk about good and bad.

It’s good to tell kids that there is evil in the world and people who do very bad things. You can’t sugar-coat this. However, tell them that there are far more good people. Talk to them about the helpers, as Mister Rogers said—all of the policemen, fireman and citizens who helped the kids and will continue to help the community.

4.    Give them something to do.

I always told my kids to pray for those who are in trouble. Even young children need to participate in a solution. Asking them to pray helps them feel that they can make a difference. You can also donate money to the victims’ families. Several verified fundraisers have been set up that you can find here, including a fundraiser organized by VictimsFirst, an organization that supports families who’ve lost loved ones in mass shootings. Visit these websites with your child and decide together how much you could donate.

Events like this make us feel helpless. But we aren’t. We have the power of prayer, we can give to those in need, we can reach out in love and support to those around us, and we can fight for measures that can be taken to reduce gun violence.

Hold your little ones tightly today. Give yourself the space you need to grieve and let this event inspire you to work toward a more peaceful and less violent future for our children.

To learn more about how to talk to your children about tragedy, the Dougy Center—a center for grief services and support—has excellent resources. Visit them at Dougy.org.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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