Talking About Gun Violence with Children: Supporting Early Conversations

Kevin Kelley, Coordinator, School Age Services; Jessica, Coordinator, School Age Services, , Coordinator, School Age Services

Talking about and understanding the news with young children can be hard, especially when the news is as scary, confusing, and heartbreaking as it has been in recent weeks.

In this post you will find a list of helpful strategies you can use to engage with your young ones about recent tragic events, booklists, and a video from our friends at Sesame Street.


Tips for talking to your young one:
  1. Don’t avoid the topic. Whether we realize it or not, kids can sense when we’re upset, sad, or experiencing anxiety. It’s better to acknowledge your feelings, even if you are not ready to talk about what happened. It’s ok to say something like “I’m feeling sad and mad right now because of something that happened in our world.”  You can ask them how they’re feeling, too.  
  2. Avoid watching the news with young children. The way that violence is portrayed and reported upon in the news can be scary, unpredictable, and difficult to explain. If they do see something upsetting, make some space to talk about what they saw, and ask if they have any questions. Reassure them that they are safe, and that you are there to take care of them.  
  3. Ask them what they know and start from there. Chances are, especially if you have school-aged kids, they will hear about a prevalent news story from someone outside the home. Start by asking them what they may have heard about it. You can clarify any misinformation, and explain the rest in simple, straightforward language. Answer their questions, adding reassurance that they are safe, and you are there to help them.  
  4. Talk about feelings. It’s important to talk about feelings all the time, not just when something bad happens. Being able to identify and name emotions helps children express when they are feeling sad or anxious, so you know when they need your help. In the wake of tragic news, talking about feelings builds trust and connection, which helps children feel safe.  
  5. Talk about tough topics not only when they are in the news. It’s never too early to start talking about tough topics with young children. Answering their questions and discussing them sends the message that it’s ok to have these conversations with you, as their trusted caregiver. When we don’t discuss it, children will come to their own conclusions--which often include the biases and stereotypes that are prevalent in our society. 
  6. As Fred Rogers said, “look for the helpers.” It can be reassuring for children to know that even when someone does something very harmful, or even if people have harmful beliefs that can hurt people--there are also so many caring people who are helping to make our world better.  
  7. Act together. Tragedy shouldn’t be the only catalyst for activism, but it can be a way for young children to process their feelings or fears, and to start to feel better. Look for age-appropriate actions you can take as a family. And if you’ve taken action in the wake of a tragedy, tell your kids about it so that they know that is an important value in your family. 
  8. It's okay to take a break and come back to the topic. While we don't want to avoid the topic, it is okay to take a break or come back to a difficult topic when your child isn't in the mood or they are ready to move on. Do something fun and comforting together, like read a favorite book. Children often need time to process, so don't assume they don't care or are not impacted if they don't have a lot to say when you first bring it up. Check in later after both of you have had some time to process.



BKLYN Picture Books about Grief, Trauma and Loss  

BKLYN Picture Books to Help Talk about Racialized Violence/Gun Violence 

BKLYN Booklist: How to talk About: Gun Violence (for littles) 


Watch this video

After watching this video feel free to explore all of the amazing resources on Community and Gun Violence (external link) over at Sesame Street.


More Resources

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) - Helping Children with Tragic Events in the News  talking tips for grown ups.

The American Psychological Association - Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting outlines some talking tips.

Colorín Colorado - Talking to Children about Tragedy in the News

The National Association for the Education of Young Children - Being a Helper: Supporting Children to Feel Safe and Secure after Disasters has a helpful chart with specific strategies for responding to children’s behavior. 

The Child Mind Institute - How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings is available in English and Spanish.


Multilingual Resources:

Colorín Colorado - Talking to Children About Violence: Multilingual Tips for Parents and Teachers The National Association of School Psychologists includes tips in 11 languages. 

American Psychological Association - Cómo ayudar a sus hijos tras los tiroteos en los centros de educación (SPANISH) 

American Red Cross - Helping Children Cope with Disaster (available in):


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