Many of us have watched with horror as gun violence in America has erupted across our television screens. The student shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County and the recent March four Our Lives has brought the issue of guns and gun violence squarely to our backdoor, indeed into our living rooms or wherever the news can follow us.
While adults are able to understand and process terrible events in peer conversations, on the radio, in the news and online, our children are not. As a parent, you might struggle with the idea of talking to your child about guns and gun violence. Despite the uncomfortable nature of the discussion though, it has never been more important for parents to lead by example, to help their children feel safe and to mitigate the natural distress and anxiety we all feel.
Dr. Tim Herzog is a counselor practicing in Annapolis, Maryland and the father of a nine-year-old public school student. He says that foremost, parents need to gauge what their children actually know about what they’ve heard or seen on the news. This can be difficult to analyze especially for children already reticent to talk much or younger children who may not understand what they’ve seen or heard. He suggests asking open-ended questions that allow children to express for themselves what they know and what they think and feel about it. “Try not to “plant seeds” to guide your conversation one way or the other. Letting your child express their own thoughts and really being a guide will help you as a parent learn more,” he says.
1) Ask open-ended questions. Let your child know you are interested in their reaction and feelings without stamping the conversation with your own viewpoints and opinions.
2) Get your child talking. Don’t interrupt, and be respectful of their point of view.
3) Identify what they are trying to communicate Define aloud what you hear your child saying so they know you are listening and relating.
4) Confirm what they are feeling and let them know you are available to talk or to find help.
5) Don’t try to be your child’s therapist. If they need more help than you can provide, reach out to your school’s social worker, a counselor or physiologist specifically certified in working with children and incident trauma.
Dr. Herzog says questions that both promote communication and create a channel to help your child alleviate anxiety might look like: “So what have your heard?” “Oh really, where did you hear about it?” “Huh, well tell me more about what you are thinking and feeling.” Then “If I hear you right, you are saying….” “Well you say that when you hear this stuff on the radio and even when you are away from the radio its really got you worried. Lets talk about how we can help take that away.”
It’s important to listen to your child’s fears and concerns. But it’s even more important to remember that our children look to us to make them feel safe. This is true whether you have a toddler or a teenager. Once you’ve established what your child knows and how they feel about it, you may find that your family needs outside help to manage irrational fears or anxieties. “If your child’s worries have mounted from “I feel scared about guns” to “I am not going to school because I might get shot”, or if your child is exhibiting unexplainable and atypical behaviors like withdrawal, nightmares or outbursts, its time to contact a counselor or psychologist”, says Dr. Herzog. To find a professional near you, visit www.psychologytoday.com or www.marylandpsychology.org. If you think your child needs help, but you can’t afford a therapist, visit http://probonocounseling.org/.
For more information from Dr. Herzog and additional ideas about how to talk to your kids about gun violence, visit www.foragingforflavor.com and search “Gun Violence”.
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