‘Start with validation’: How to talk to kids about mass shootings after a year of stress

Connecticut Families

(WTNH) — A year of Covid, racial tensions, a riot at the Capitol, and now: two mass shootings in one week.

“I just think there’s been a compounding effect,” says Dr. Laura Saunders of Hartford HealthCare’s Institute of Living.

A time of stress, sure to affect our youth.

Experts say to try to shield young children, but older kids will certainly hear about the recent violence in Georgia and Colorado.

“It’s always important to be as open and honest and direct as possible. We start with validation,” says Saunders, who says – sometimes – these awful incidents can lead to productive conversations about issues like gun control.

And Dr. Ryan Loss of Connecticut Behavioral Health says it’s also OK to share the kids’ fears and to NOT have answers.

“Part of it is the, ‘I don’t know,’ and it’s OK to let kids know, across the age range, that we don’t exactly know,” he says, referring to why this violence happens.

He advises parents to encourage kids to ask questions and to tell them that – while these events are very scary – they remain quite rare.

“We’re going to see it on the news because it’s a significant thing when it happens, but it’s something we don’t have to worry too much about because it happens at a lower frequency,” says Loss.

“I always think we in Connecticut are very vulnerable to these things because we’ve had our own tragedy at Sandy Hook,” says Saunders.

Saunders believes a lack of control can scare Moms and Dads. *So, instead, focus on how to make a positive difference at home or in the community.

“When we have situations like this, I just want people to dig deep for their compassion and for their kindness and do things to help each other where we can, where we do have control,” she says.

In response to speculation that the Georgia shootings could be hate crimes, Saunders and Loss say start to talk to kids about acceptance very early. Tell them we’re all different, that differences are beneficial, necessary and extremely important.

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