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How to Talk with Children about Mass Shootings

By Melissa Jacobs, CRC Leadership Team


Sadly, this is a topic that keeps rearing its ugly head.

As parents and people who work with children many of us have the understandable instinct to shield our children from this latest national tragedy. But how can we shield our children from the atrocity when screens and media are everywhere? We can’t.

What we can do, however, is support our children’s healthy coping with a frightening news story by calmly providing them with filtered, developmentally appropriate information about the event.

First and foremost, we need to let our children know that they are loved and safe, and that such events, while very scary, are rare and unusual.  We need to share this with our children while doing our best to remain calm and steady ourselves, focused on the child’s sense of safety and wellbeing.

This is hard.

A good place to begin a conversation with children of all ages about the shooting is to simply ask them what they have already heard about it and then listen to what they have to tell you. Explain as much of what happened as children can understand developmentally and keep details to a minimum. Avoid graphic details about the tragedy.  You want to provide children with enough information so that they know what has happened. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Invite them to ask questions of their own. Let their questions guide the conversation and provide clarity and reassurance where needed. It is common for younger children to have fewer questions compared to older children. A good rule of thumb is to answer the question asked. Too often, well-intentioned grown-ups generate anxiety in their children by providing too much information. As you talk with the child, pay attention to how you are feeling, and what you think the child is feeling. Encourage the child to express their feelings, and validate those feelings. Listen carefully for any unstated concerns or fears and observe your children looking for any changes in behavior. Be prepared for your child to return to you with questions over a period of time, a few hours, days and even weeks. We want to be able to tell children something hard and true, that: “Sometimes, very bad things happen, but we are strong enough to deal with those things together.” This sends the powerful message to a child that life can be difficult but that difficulties can be managed and coped with. It is a message that is aimed at building resiliency.

Here are some suggestions about how to talk about the tragedy with children of different ages.

With children under the age of 3 years old, especially those whose exposure to media is minimal, we recommend that you NOT be the one to initiate the conversation about the shooting. However, we do encourage you to be prepared to have a conversation with them about it. If you get the sense that your child has heard or seen something about the shooting, you will want to talk with them about it. Always start by asking them what they have heard.

Given the likelihood that preschool age children will learn about the shooting, we encourage you to be the child’s source of information about the event, rather than learning about it in the media or from another child. Ask the child what they have heard and then provide them with a straightforward and accurate description of the event. With young children, grown-ups often err on the side of being too vague with what they share. If your description is too vague, children may not understand why so much is being made of the event. You want to convey to the child that it is okay if this news upsets them, and that you are there to support them.

Even with elementary school-age and adolescent children, begin your conversation by asking them what they have heard, and what questions they have about what happened. Your conversation can be guided by the child’s questions. Keep in mind that even though older children may seem more savvy and sophisticated they still will likely find the news of the shooting unsettling and need to be reassured that their upset is understandable and normal and that you are interested in their feelings and available to support them as they accommodate and cope with what has happened. With older children, it will be important to discuss images and content they will likely come across on their screens and to develop a plan minimize exposure to graphic imagery, and to share anything they come across that they find to be disturbing with you. You may also want to inquire if there is anything they would like to do in response to the tragedy. Older children often want to do something because taking an active stance makes them feel less helpless. At the same time, however, you don’t want to feel pressured to act. If they are not interested, that’s fine too.

Regardless of the child’s age, we encourage you to highlight the following points as you talk with the children in your life about the Las Vegas tragedy.

◦      Events such as what happened this week in Las Vegas are rare and unusual.        

   ◦      Children are loved by their families and communities.

   ◦      Their feelings are natural and normal in such a situation.

   ◦      You are interested in their feelings and thoughts about the tragedy. And it is important to share them, especially their concerns.

   ◦      The adults in their community are trained to keep them safe and will always work hard to ensure that happens.

   ◦      The vast majority of people in the world are good and these people are working to make sure events such as this do not happen again.

Talking about an upsetting event like this recent shooting poses a challenge for adults, but such conversations provide an important way to convey to children that their sense of safety and wellbeing is important to those who care for them.


For more information:

Link to American Academy of Pediatrics


Clinical Perspectives on Reflective Parenting: Keeping the Child’s Mind in Mind

A dad says he has to remind his daughter over and over every night to feed the dog. One mom put it like this, “It’s such a chore to get my kids to do chores.” Another mother says she wishes her kids wanted to help out- since she and her husband worked so hard for them. In one way or another each of these parents asked me “Isn’t there a way to make it easier and less unpleasant to get my kids to do their chores or help me out with household tasks?”

Chores, responsibilities, tasks Chores are daily responsibilities that a child is required to do on a regular basis, such as feeding the dog or setting the table. There are  household tasks we expect of kids . We don’t think of them as chores but just as part of self-care, such as brushing teeth; Or respecting the needs of others, such as not leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor. Then there are times when a household task comes up and you want your child to help you then and there- such as helping you carry in the groceries.

In all these cases We expect something of our child and they either are not cooperative, or  are sullen about it, even if they are cooperative.
Some parents say they are ready to give up on kids doing chores altogether, or asking for a child’s help because it is so unpleasant. While I understand often it is easier to do a chore/task yourself, I encourage you not to give up.

A Reflective Mindset can help
 A reflective mindset, can’t remove the conflict and unpleasantness altogether but it can help you feel better about them when they happen.

First and foremost You are not alone! Lots of parents wish their child wanted to help out more around the house, and was cheerful about doing chores. Lots of parents get into conflict with kids about them helping out with work around the houseLots’ of parents have to nag their child to do their chores. Lots of  kids are grumpy and sullen when you ask them to help you or you remind them to do their chores. Lots of parents feel the whole effort of getting a child to help out with household tasks or to do their chores, is a big chore!

If you go on the internet there are lots of suggestions for you to try. Make chores and helping out into a fun activity. Set a timer and see how quickly a child can pick up their toys. Make putting your clothes into the hamper like a ‘basketball game.’ Have a family meeting and come to an agreement about what chores and tasks the kids will do. Many of these suggestions work and some kids are cooperative. But not always!

The truth is many times kids grumble, whine complain, don’t cooperate and the whole process becomes a hassle

What you can do: Align your expectations with reality.  I find that most parents typically have rather reasonable expectations of what their child should do around the house. Unfortunately, however, these same parents often have rather unrealistic expectations about how their children should feel  about it.

Unrealistic expectations include:

  • A child should be happy and cheerful about chores and delightfully willing to help.
  • A child ought to show their appreciation for all the parent does for them, by wanting to give back and help their parents.

This is when the 2-way perspective taking of Reflective Parenting is helpful  Children often express their autonomy and independence by showing displeasure with what parents ask. Children do appreciate their parent’s efforts but too much emphasis on having to show appreciation can make a child feel guilty or burdened about the work their parents do for them. It is OK to ask kids to say ‘thank you’ when you do something special for them. But they should not have to show their thanks by doing something special back for you.

A mismatch of expectations can make parents feel overly annoyed, hurt or helpless. It can even make them feel overly negative about their child. 

You may get more by expecting less. Don’t get me wrong. There are enormous benefits to kids doing chores and helping their parents. It teaches kids a long list of important values and lessons: Being cooperative; Helping others; Being considerate of others; Learning not everything in life is fun and easy; Being a responsible member of a group. But if you expect your child to immediately cooperate or to be cheerful about it, you may be expecting too much.

They are called chores, tasks and work for a reason.
 If you are honest with yourself, you don’t like doing chores either. You may even feel grumpy when you have to do that work around the house- carrying groceries, doing laundry, picking up after yourself; or tasks like fixing a leaky faucet.


  • It is not always a problem when your child is negative. Just because your child grumbles and whines does not mean there is something wrong either  with  your child or with your parenting. As I said earlier a child’s negativity is often their way of  expressing their autonomy and independence. While it might be easier if your child were more willing, positive and cheerful about chores and helping-sometimes the lesson about being responsible and considerate is best learned when a child has a tussle with their parents and the parents keep insisting, despite the child’s protests.
  • Be clear in your own mind that doing chores and helping is a good idea 
    The more confident you feel in what you are expecting of your child, the more calm but firm you will be about it. Pick chores that are age appropriate, so you won’t be second guessing yourself as to whether your child is capable of fulfilling the chore.
  • Be consistent but also flexible and open-minded. Be clear about your expectation but don’t be a stickler. Life happens. You often put chores and house work aside when other things take priority. This will happen for  kids as well.
  • Be realistic about what to expect. The point is for parents to acknowledge that while we can have a fair amount of control over how our children act, we don’t have control over how they feel.
  • Persevere and keep at it.  When parents stick with it, despite the child’s distress and lack of willingness to cooperate it is an amazing lesson and adds to a kid’s sense of security.  It says to a child, “I have strong, confident parents I can count on.” It says, “My parents care enough about me to go through all this difficulty with me.” It says, “I am really a part of this family.” It even builds family pride- This is how we do it!


You CAN expect and insist and require kids to do chores, and to help out with work around the house- as long as what you ask of them is age appropriate and within their capacity to do it.

You CAN’T expect kids to feel the way you wish they would feel.


We don’t have control over how others feel.

Trying to control how your child feels often backfires because it makes kids feel intruded on, manipulated, controlled and resentful.

Yes every parent would prefer a smile when a child does their chores. But don’t get hung up on always expecting that. It is just not always how it turns out.


Balance holding the feelings with holding the line: So much of reflective parenting has to do with being tuned in and responsive to how kids feel. However, there are times, such as when it comes to kids not wanting to do chores, or help out, when you probably do best by not focusing so much on how your child feels about it.

Focus on the behaviors and explain the expectations. Tell your child what you expect them to do. Explain your reasons for wanting this. Try to avoid insisting on how your child should feel it.

Keep it simple! Make it neutral  Make it about what you want or what you believe in as a parent. Or make it about how your family does it.  Don’t make it about your child’s character. For example don’t say, “Stop being so lazy, come and help me.” Don’t get into long debates about it, why it’s important for them to do chores or help out in other ways. The point is, that even in the midst of conflict, try to express as calmly as possible, something to the effect of ‘This is what I want. This is what I expect you to do. It’s OK with me, even if you aren’t happy about having to do it.’

Do’s and don’ts  Don’t be snide about it or act disappointed about it when they are irritated about chores and helping.  Do show some type of pleasure, appreciation or gratitude when your child does the chore or helps with a household task. ‘Thank you very much. I appreciate it.’

Feelings follow from habits When we focus on the behavior, and are consistent and repetitive about what behavior we ask of our child, it establishes a behavioral habit in the child. Once a habit forms, it takes on a life of its own. The habit starts to feel familiar, comfortable, and becomes part of who your child is. Like developing the habit of brushing teeth, or taking a shower. In this case, it is a habit of helping and of being responsible within the family. Your appreciation after they accomplish the task, becomes embedded in the good feeling that comes from the habit. It is not that different from the M&M reward you may have given your child for using the potty.  Eventually they use the toilet even without the M&M.


Your child’s chore is to clear the dishes off the table. If they forget, remind them in a neutral fashion. “Remember you are supposed to clear the table off.” Then allow them to grump, groan, complain, argue. But keep firm about your expectation. “I am not getting into a debate or argument with you. You know what is expected of you.”

You want help with a project. You say to your child “I need help cleaning out the garage. I would like you to help me.’ Then you can work out  a reasonable time when your child can help. Then allow them to grump, groan, complain, argue. But keep firm about your expectation, etc. 

You want help with a task. You say to your child, “The living room is messy, and we have guests coming. I want you to help me clean up’. Then allow them to grump, groan, complain, argue. But keep firm about your expectation, etc. 

I am not saying this is a miracle pill. Teaching lessons is hard work. It takes time and need to be taught over and over.

I am saying is don’t get so bent out of shape yourself if conflict happens with your child around doing their chore of setting the table, or when you ask your child to help you put the groceries in the refrigerator. Just hang in there. Eventually the lesson is absorbed.

Written by CRC’s Co-Director, Regina Pally: http://reginapally.com/publications/clinical-perspectives/ 

The Meanness of pranking children

Melissa Jacobs of CRC’s Leadership team wrote her thoughts on a Washington Post article about Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween pranks on children. See her thoughts and the original article below…

Imagine you are six-years old. It is the morning after Halloween, a day you had looked forward to for weeks. After considerable deliberation you chose your costume. Maybe you and one of your parents helped you make the costume over many nights. Perhaps you braved the super spooky Halloween decorations at your neighborhood party store. Maybe you got to wear only some of your costume to school because masks and accessories aren’t allowed. You waited a near eternity for night to fall. Finally, night falls and you are hard at work, ringing the doorbell of every neighbor whose front porch light is on, carefully picking your favorite candies from the proffered bowl. “One-per-customer” at the house on the corner; “Take what you want” next door, score!. Your bag grew heavy, your legs grew heavy. When you got home you examined your loot and ate more than your parents wanted you to. You fell asleep thinking how to make your candy last til January, or maybe you would eat it all by Friday. 
Now imagine you wander into the kitchen the next morning, looking for your stash. 
“Mommy, where’s my candy?” 
“I ate it.”
Imagine how you would feel. 
Then she says: “Only joking.”  
Now imagine how you would feel.  
A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post by child psychiatrist Meg van Achterberg invites parents to consider the meanness of this very prank, a prank late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel has encouraged his adult audience members to play on their kids the morning after Halloween for the past six years. Jimmy Kimmel has become an admirable spokesperson for the need for health-care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, something he has become sensitized to having recently had a child who has a preexisting condition. Perhaps, as his child comes to savor Halloween, Kimmel will come to imagine how his own child might experience such a prank and maybe even find it to be a little less funny.