Sonoma County Office of Education

How to Talk to Children about Mass Shootings

10/26/2023 -

Wednesday’s mass shooting at a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, has killed at least 18 people. This massacre at a gathering place for children and families is a horrific act of violence that many across the country will find disturbing. In the interest of providing as much support to our school communities and families as possible we would like to share some resources and tips that may be helpful when talking to children about what happened.

Following are some tips for reassuring and listening to children following an act of violence, along with links to the source materials from which they come.

Tips on helping children cope:

  • Reassure children that you are invested in their safety, as are the adults around them.
  • Make time for them to reflect and express their feelings, free of judgment. Recognize signs that they may want to talk, such as hovering near you.
  • Let them have their own reactions. Don’t tell them how they should feel or act.
  • Validate what they are feeling. Make it clear that it is OK to feel anxious, fearful, or sad.
  • Be aware of how your own emotions or reactions might affect children. Acknowledge your fears or concerns, but it is important to remain calm in front of children.
  • Make sure the child feels there is someone at school and in other settings such as daycare, extracurricular activities, etc., who they feel they can confide in if they do not feel safe.
  • Learn to recognize signs of distress in children, such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, irritability, age-regressive behaviors such as tantrums or bedwetting, or substance abuse.
  • Seek help from a mental health professional if you are worried your child may hurt themselves or others, or if they display excessive fear or anger that lasts for weeks.

If you wish to explore this topic further, the following resources, which were used as source materials for this message, may be helpful.

For Parents and Educators:

Talking with Children About Violence / Spanish version (National Association of School Psychologists)

Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event / Spanish version (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)

Navigating Therapy Referrals for Sonoma County families, English and Spanish (Sonoma County Office of Education)

Supporting Your Child During Stressful Times, English and Spanish (Sonoma County Office of Education)

Helping Young Children with Traumatic Grief / Spanish version (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)

Video: I Don’t Know How to Address Worries about My Child’s School Safety, for parents (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)

For Educators:

Helping Youth After Trauma: Tips for Educators (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)