The Tough Topic of Talking to Your Kids About Mass Tragedies

February 15, 2018 07:09 PM

(ABC 6 News) - In homes all across the country, families are now faced with talking to their kids about gun violence and how to cope with mass tragedy in the wake of Wednesday's Florida high school shooting

“You knew that there were going to be parents that weren't going to be reunited with their children and that thought is devastating [...] I remember Columbine, It was 1999 and I was pregnant with my first child. I remember that feeling of being 6 months pregnant questioning the world that I was bringing my child into and what the future held for them, and I had hope. I had hoped that we would not be here 18 years later,” said Jill Cordes, a mother of two. 


After Wednesday’s shooting, Cordes sat down and had a conversation with her kids, a conversation that has become more and more necessary these days. 

“I need to have that conversation with my kids to be aware. Be aware of those signs. Let teachers know if something doesn't feel right because as we know with many of these cases, there have been warning signs. There have been big red flags,” said Cordes.

So, how do you talk to families about the fact that this is happening over and over again?

“As a clinician, it's difficult to know that people are struggling so deeply. Individuals are already getting professional help and I think the unfortunate piece is that all the treatment that they need,” said Andrea Thomas, a licensed counselor at Peaks of Hope Counseling.

Thomas adds that it's all about how parents open the channels of communication for such a tough topic, “Kids aren't asking for help from adults as much as they used to. They're asking their friends and that is a very difficult slippery slope that and I feel like we're seeing tragedy’s that can be related to that."

For Cordes, whose oldest daughter is studying abroad, she said she feels safer with her there than anywhere here at the moment.

Mayo Clinic has suggestions for parents who are looking to start the conversation with their child.
How do I explain the tragedy to my child?

Tell the truth. Focus on the basics, and avoid sharing unnecessary details. Don't exaggerate or speculate about what might happen. Avoid dwelling on the scale or scope of the tragedy.
Listen closely to your child for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears. Provide accurate information. Share your own thoughts and remind your child that you're there for him or her. Reassure your child that what happened isn't his or her fault.

Your child's age will affect how he or she processes information about a tragedy. Consider these tips:

•         Preschool children. Get down to your child's eye level. Speak in a calm and gentle voice using words your child understands. Explain what happened and how it might affect your child. Share steps that are being taken to keep your child safe and give hugs.

•         Elementary and early middle school children. Children in this age range might have more questions about whether they're truly safe. They might need help separating fantasy from reality.

•         Upper middle school and high school children. Older children will want more information about the tragedy and recovery efforts. They're more likely to have strong opinions about the causes, as well as suggestions about how to prevent future tragedies and a desire to help those affected.


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