Talking to Kids About Gun Violence

Talking to Kids About Gun Violence

Several years ago, Chrysalis staff had the opportunity to meet with retired United States Representative Gabby Giffords, who shared her story of being shot in the head during a constituent meet and greet event in a supermarket parking lot on January 8, 2011. She and 18 citizens attending this Casas Adobes, Arizona public meeting were shot – 6 were killed. Giffords stepped down from Congress to focus on recovery, and in 2013, co-founded an organization known as Giffords, which works to reduce gun violence and influence voters and legislators to make change. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2022, the highest of civilian honors, at the same time Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, a documentary about her life premiered.

A key focus of Giffords’ work is in promoting efforts for states to restrict the ability of domestic abusers to own guns. Statistics demonstrate that when abusive partners have access to firearms, the victim is five times more likely to be killed.

Whatever your beliefs are about guns and gun ownership, you may be interested to know that Iowa received grade of “F” from the Giffords Law Center score card ranking gun laws across the U.S. Our country experiences an average of one mass shooting every day, and over 3 million children are directly exposed to fun violence every year. Sadly, active shooter and lockdown drills have become the norm for children, and the trauma of first-hand experience is now a familiar part of growing up.

The organization has worked with the American Academy of Pediatrics to help us better understand how to talk with our children and young people about these tragedies: No matter what age or developmental stage your child is, you can start by asking what they've already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they've heard, ask what questions they have and how they feel about what's happened.

Older children, teens, and young adults might ask more questions. They may ask for and benefit more from additional information. But no matter what age your child is, it's best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.

The American School Counselor Association has also released a list of resources along with this simple guide:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
  • Limit exposure to television and the news.
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do make poor choices.
  • Families and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

Chrysalis uses this information in our training of both GirlPower peer mentors and Chrysalis After-School facilitators so that girls in our programs have the opportunity to talk about their feelings and fears. In this way, we can help them feel safe in school and supported when they need help.

Please take time to read this information and share with others who will benefit and hope for a day when gun violence isn’t the primary fear for our children as they grow.