Talking to your keiki about mass shootings

May. 31, 2022

The senseless shooting and tragic loss of life at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has evoked emotions in mākua and keiki including sadness, anxiety, helplessness and anger. Children who are struggling with their thoughts and feelings about the shooting may turn to trusted adults for help and guidance. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, here are some tips on how to talk to children about mass shootings.

Start the conversation
Talk about the shooting with your child. Not talking about it can make the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible even to speak about or that you do not know what has happened. With social media, it is highly unlikely that children and teenagers have not heard about this.

Find out what your child already knows
Start by asking what your child already has heard about the events from the media and from friends. Listen carefully. Try to figure out what he or she knows or believes. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns. Understand that this information will change as more facts about the shooting are known.

Gently correct inaccurate information
If your child has inaccurate information or misconceptions, take time to provide the correct information in simple, clear, age-appropriate language.

Encourage your child to ask questions
Your keiki may have some difficult questions about the incident. She may want to know if this could happen at her school. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a challenging situation when they have the facts about it. Take this opportunity to reassure your child that each year, Kamehameha Schools campuses hold lockdown drills to prepare for crises situations including active shooters. This will reassure your child as she struggles to cope with the range of emotions stirred up by this tragedy.

Limit media exposure
Limit your child’s exposure to media images and sounds of the shooting, and do not allow your very young children to see or hear any TV/radio shooting-related messages. Even if they appear to be engrossed in play, children often are aware of what you are watching and listening to. What may not be upsetting to an adult may be very upsetting and confusing for a child. Limit your own exposure as well. Adults may become more distressed with nonstop exposure to media coverage of the shooting.

Be conscious of behavior changes
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, children may have more problems paying attention and concentrating. They may become more irritable or defiant. Children and even teens may have trouble separating from caregivers, wanting to stay at home or close by them. It’s common for young people to feel anxious about what has happened, what may happen in the future, and how it will impact their lives. Children may think about this event, even when they try not to. Their sleep and appetite routines may change. In general, you should see these reactions lessen within a few weeks.

Be a positive role model
Consider sharing your feelings about the events with your child, but at a level they can understand. You may express sadness and empathy for the victims and their families. You may share some worry, but it is important to also share ideas for coping with difficult situations like this tragedy. When you speak of the quick response by law enforcement and medical personnel to help the victims, you help your child see that there can be good, even in the midst of such a horrific event.

Ask for help if you need it
Should reactions continue or at any point interfere with your child’s abilities to function or if you are worried, contact local mental health professionals who have expertise in trauma. Contact your family physician, pediatrician, or state mental health associations for referrals to such experts.

E pule kākou

Nā Kahu o Nā Kula ʻo Kamehameha have offered this special pule to our Kamehameha ‘ohana in remembrance of those lost in the Texas shooting and for those who mourn their loss.


Talking to kids about tragedies
National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement

How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings
Child Mind Institute

What to say to kids about school shootings to ease their stress
Hawai‘i Public Radio

The Mālama Ola Minute is a series brought to you by the Kamehameha Schools Mālama Ola Division to increase awareness, promote discussion, and offer tools to improve the physical and mental health of our haumāna.