How to talk to children about mass shootings

Child psychologit offers advice for explaining mass shootings to children

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As more details come out about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, there are many lingering questions about what happened. Parents are finding themselves debating what to tell their children about the gruesome acts. 

Child psychologist Dr. Andrew Scherbarth said it’s best to be open and try to explain what’s happened in limited detail while assuring children that they are safe.

"It is very overwhelming and very disheartening when you see all of this,” parent Christina Ramey said. “And kind of scary."

Ramey said that while her daughter isn’t old enough yet, the day will come when she will start asking questions about these events.

“Some people just get very afraid and very angry and very hateful, and that’s when things like this happen,” Ramey said.

Scherbarth said parents should be open with their children about what’s going on.

“One of the best things to stay away from and to not do is to say things like, 'Well, just don’t worry' or 'Let’s not talk about this,' because that’s when things kind of build up a little bit more,” Scherbarth said.

Scherbarth said parents should start the conversation by asking their children what they already know. Then they can address any concerns their children have, explaining what happened at an age-appropriate level and assuring them that they are safe and that there are people to protect them.

“Discussing things in age-appropriate ways is helpful too,” Scherbarth said. “You know, kids that are younger, elementary age, they don’t necessarily need to know a ton of details.”

Ramey said it’s difficult to digest all the violence, and she hopes her daughter can be a positive force in the future.

“I don’t want her to grow up in the world being afraid of everything and of people, so I just want to emphasize for her to bring as much love in the world as she can," Ramey said.

Scherbarth said parents should monitor their children's time on the Internet and social media to limit exposure to details they don’t want them to know.