Advice from a psychologist on how to talk to children about gun violence

Amna Nawaz:

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden attends a vigil in Nashville tonight to honor and remember the six people killed in a mass shooting at the Covenant School earlier this week. It’s part of a city-wide candlelight vigil. Singers Sheryl Crow, Margo Price and Ketch Secor perform at the event.

Once again, parents and caregivers across the country are considering how they want to talk to children about this attack and the gun violence.

An important perspective on all of this now from Dr. Tori Cordiano. She is a clinical psychologist specializing in children and adolescents who practices in Ohio.

Dr. Cordiano, welcome and thank you for joining us.

As you know, after every one of these shootings, especially in schools, especially when children are killed, the question arises, how should parents and caregivers talk to children, if they should talk to children ? How about that? And how is the conversation different depending on the age of the children?

Dr. Tori Cordiano, Laurel School Girl Research Center: So a lot of it depends on the age of the child and their level of development.

I think with younger kids you can really consider how much access they will have to this news. And they may not be aware of it. So you may not need to have this conversation with them.

With older elementary school kids, if you think they’re likely to hear about it from friends or teachers, you’ll want to strike up a conversation. And I always like the idea of ​​starting with, what did you hear about what happened in Nashville? And if they haven’t heard anything, or if you feel like they haven’t heard anything, you can start with, I want to tell you about something that happened in Nashville.

With older children, you can expect that if they haven’t heard of it before, they will hear about it at school. And so you’ll want to have that conversation with them right off the bat, so they can process that with you and not be blindsided by it.

It is also very helpful to start with what they have heard and then ask them what questions they have. The goal is to give them manageable and clear information, but not to overwhelm them with details that can be overwhelming or frightening.

As parents and caregivers, you want to have a space where you can process that, where you can reflect on it, talk about it with other people, have your own place to process your feelings about it. Of course, it can upset you when talking with your kids, and that’s okay. It’s emotional. It’s sad, it’s scary, it’s annoying.

But you also want to have your own space separate from them where you can really process your own feelings about it, so your conversation with them can focus on taking care of them at this time.


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