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Family Therapist Explains How to Talk to Your Kids About Gun Violence

There is not one right way to talk to your kids about the Dallas police ambush or the horrific mass shooting in Orlando. But if you can’t seem to find the words, licensed marriage and family therapist Susan Stiffelman shared her top six tips for addressing national tragedies with your children.

Turn Off the News “After a tragedy, many people keep the television on to feel connected with others who are also struggling to cope,” Stiffelman tells Us Weekly. But wait until the kids are in bed before you tune in to CNN. Explains the Parenting Without Power Struggles author: “Children are easily overwhelmed by somber newscasters repeatedly sharing frightening images and worrisome updates.”

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Answer Only the Questions That You Are Asked “If your child says, ‘What happened in Orlando?’ first ask him what he has heard,” says Stiffelman. “Tailor your response to his specific question to avoid flooding him with information.”

memorial service for Orlando shooting victims
People hug as they stand together during a memorial service at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the victims of the Pulse gay nightclub shooting, where Omar Mateen killed 49 people on June 13, 2016, in Orlando. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Steer Clear of Abstract Concepts If you are presented with the question “Why did that man shoot people in Orlando?’” Stiffelman advises that you avoid complex explanations around radical religious beliefs. Instead, she recommends responding with, “No one really knows why this person did such a terrible thing. But we do know that he was very confused in his mind.”

Related: Orlando Nightclub Shooting: What We Know

Make It Safe to Come to You for Help With Big Feelings “Simply saying, ‘Don’t worry!’ teaches children to repress their worries, which can fuel chronic anxiety,” Stiffelman tells Us. “If your child expresses fear, tell her you’re glad she came to you for help.” Adds the Malibu-based therapist: “While you may not be able to dismiss all her concerns, she will be comforted just knowing she can lean on you when she’s scared.”

Dallas Police Chief David Brown pauses at a prayer vigil following the deaths of five police officers last night during a Black Live Matter march on July 8, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Offer Practical Reassurance According to Stiffelman, children are egocentric and often wonder whether they could be subject to similar acts of violence. “Remind your child of the millions of gatherings that happen safely each day and the thousands of people who are hard at work to keep us safe,” says the Parenting With Presence author. 

Teach Tolerance “While many of us feel powerless in the aftermath of tragedy, there is something we can do,” Stiffelman tells Us. “We can conduct ourselves in a way that makes it clear to our children that all people are worthy of respect. Model for your children the fact that every human life is precious and you will be helping stem the tide of hate-fueled violence.

Susan Stiffelman is on Twitter.

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