It’s been nearly a month since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Since that day on Feb. 14, 2018, when 17 students and faculty lost their lives, kids in schools across the country have been subjected to random lockdown drills, book bag bans, and more threats of violence. Some kids are old enough to understand why, while others are just beginning to put the pieces together. It’s a frightening time for everyone, though; one filled with uncertainty and unanswered questions. So, how are parents explaining the Parkland shooting to their kids? How do you describe such a senseless act of mass violence to children?
My son is 4-years-old, and he’s already starting to understand the concept of death. It’s a difficult subject to explain to a kid, especially because I don't want to scare him. He’s started imaginative play involving shooting, too, which frightens me a bit. While I do what I can to shield him from the world of guns (my family doesn’t own guns, nor do we watch anything where guns are used while our son is present), I know he will eventually pick up on what a firearm really is and why they're used. Someday (and likely it will be soon), he will start asking his father and I why people shoot other people, and why anyone would shoot kids in classrooms.
If I'm being honest, I will have to admit that I have no idea how to explain mass shootings and school shootings to my pure-hearted child. That conversation seems, well, impossible. But after talking with a handful of other mothers who have already facilitated these discussions their kids, I’m definitely feeling a bit more prepared. If you’re still wondering how best to share this information with your little ones, I suggest reading on.
“Well, we live in Parkland, right down the street from the school, so as soon as we found out we rushed home and made sure the house was locked up and stayed inside. At that time the shooter was still at large. We also heard sirens and helicopters going by for over an hour. I told my kids what was happening immediately. I believe in being open about these kinds of things. Kids are going to talk at school, but I’d rather my kids learn things from me. My older daughter also knew about the shooting at Pulse Nightclub so she understands there are people in the world who want to kill others. I don’t go into too much detail but I answer any questions she has. The day after we were driving to school and she asked if it hurts being shot, almost like she was preparing in case it happened to her. That one broke my heart. I answered her but cried hysterically once I dropped her off. It’s awful, but this is the world we live in.
We also talked about gun control as well. I mean in very simple terms, but they understand there are certain guns that these bad people use that other people really don’t need. I took them to the rally where Emma Gonzalez gave that now infamous speech. And we are going to the march later this month. I want my kids to know if something isn’t right, you should fight to change it.”
“I was sitting in my kitchen the morning after the shooting when I read that students were live-tweeting and taking video during the incident because they wanted other people to know what was happening. My 9-year-old was eating breakfast and saw me just break down and start sobbing. I explained to her that a man went to a high school in Florida and shot and killed a lot of people. She tried to comfort me by explaining in detail her school’s security protocols and her class’ active shooter drill.
I should preface that I don’t like to lie to my kid. I try to keep things age-appropriate, but I don’t even like sugar-coating things. I probably get WAY too real with my kid about a lot of things — sometimes to my husband’s chagrin — and in that moment I was especially emotional.
I told her we live in a very safe, low-crime area, but shootings happen in all kinds of places. I told her I’m tired of kids needlessly dying and our government learning nothing from their deaths. I told her this man should never have had access to any guns, and NO ONE should have access to the type of gun he had. I scared her a bit, and I felt guilty about it, but we talked about how important it is to be prepared for emergencies and to take care of each other, especially when something scary happens.
I wish I had better answers. I did the best I could.”
“We spoke to our kiddos pretty openly about it. They already knew something had happened and had a few questions of their own. We, of course, answered as honest as we could. We also told them if they see strange behavior or hear anything regarding hurting someone else, no matter the weapon of choice, they need to say something. Hear or see, please say something to an adult in the school or hear at home. Our kiddos know that there are people in this world that have no disregard for other living beings, no matter if it’s human or animal. Once we knew they could comprehend things like us adults do, we began telling them things as clearly as we can. It's better to be honest and speak openly about these things than to sugar coat and pretend it doesn't exist. Sadly, the world we live in now doesn't give us the opportunity to pretend things aren't happening.”
“So first I asked Miles (9 year old, 3rd grade) what he knew about it. He'd heard a bit on the news before I had a chance to turn it off. I explained that the day before, a boy came to his old school and started shooting people and that he'd killed some students and teachers. I told him I wanted to answer his questions before he went to school, because I wanted him to hear from me and not from kids on the bus. He asked me why someone would do that.
I told him that I didn't know, but that we would hear lots of guesses over the next few days. Some people will say that he is mentally ill. Some will say he was lonely. Some will say he is autistic. And that while maybe those things were true, they do not cause people to shoot others. People still make choices, and this boy made a very bad choice. (I said boy because at this point I didn't know he was an adult.)
We've had multiple conversations since then. One time I asked him what he learned to do in case that happened at his school. And another time we talked about access to guns. He is considering participating in the walkout or the rally on the 24th.”
“Oliver is 4.5, so I feel like he is too young to discuss this topic just yet. However, he’s very into ‘shooting guns,’ which are his nerf or water guns, and he wants to take them everywhere. I’ve often been hesitant because despite how brightly colored and obviously fake they are, we live in a different time now. So the day after, and every day since, I’ve told him he must leave his shooting guns at home or in the car. He’s asked why, so in the beginning I told him that sometimes people are afraid of guns, even fake ones. He asked why, so I told him because sometimes mean people hurt others with real guns. And that makes a lot of us scared and nervous. So we need to play with our toys in spaces where people wouldn’t be afraid. When he suggested bringing them into daddy’s work (a school), I told him that is a place where people are very afraid or nervous to see real or fake guns, so we must be kind and play with them elsewhere. He’s also asked to take them into church, and I’ve told him the same.
One day, when he’s older, we will go into more detail on weapons: the why’s, the locations, and his darker skin tone... but not today. Today, we’ll just talk about making sure we don’t contribute to fear and nervousness.”
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