On Feb. 1, 2022, a deadly shooting occurred outside a Richfield, Minnesota, school. As our community mourns, families are likely dealing with a lot of questions at their dinner tables and living rooms that may be difficult for parents to answer on their own.
Seeing violence in the media has become more common, and some young kids or teens may be confused about what is happening and how they should feel about it.
We’re here to give you tips for talking to your kids and teens about the violence they’ve seen in the media.
Tips for talking to kids about violence
Have the conversation
It’s important to discuss violent events in the media with your kids directly and openly. While it may feel uncomfortable or you may not be prepared, it’s still important to have the conversation. Find out what your child knows and how they feel about what is going on. Remember: Kids worries and questions, and even opinions on events, may not be the same as your own. Monitor your own emotions and be open to differences.
Be open and direct
Kids may ask questions such as ‘What is happening?’, ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Will they hurt me?’ Parents may not always feel prepared to answer these questions, but being honest and factual, and using words and language that kids can understand is very important. Keeping open lines of communication allows children to express their thoughts and emotions in the ways they need to. This communication can look different at different ages.
Shortly after the 2022 school shooting in Richfield, MN, Dr. Sarah Jerstad, child psychologist at Children’s Minnesota, shared helpful insights for parents on the local news about how they can talk with their kids about gun violence – especially when it occurs in or near a school. Dr. Jerstad told the news station that it’s important for parents to strike a balance when talking to kids about school gun violence and do not minimize what happened.
“You want the child to know this was scary, this was difficult and to acknowledge their feelings,” Dr. Jerstad told WCCO-TV. “But, you also want the child to know you are safe and we are doing our best to keep you safe, and try to help them move forward through normal activities.”
Be open to talking about how this may affect kids’ mental health
These violent events may cause kids anxiety, stress and other emotions. It’s important to watch your children and look for signs of mental health distress including significant behavioral changes such as difficulties with sleep, changes in appetite and difficulties with attention and concentration.
Dr. Jerstad says it could be difficult for kids to express their feelings at first. But, parents should get their child help through their school or primary care doctor if a sense of fear lasts for weeks or months.
Break the stigma about mental health
There is still a lot of stigma associated with seeking mental health care, so your child may be afraid or nervous to ask about it. Try to be careful with your words and not to use the word ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’ when talking about emotional distress or problems in response to stressful or traumatic life events.
Take care of your own mental health
Part of being the best parent you can be is looking after yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling with mental health.
Get mental health help for your child
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, Children’s Minnesota behavioral health specialists are here for you. You can find help on the Children’s Minnesota Behavior Health Support Hub: Living Now.