How to once again explain gun violence to kids after Sutherland Springs shooting

On Oct. 2, just a little more than a month ago, I was writing about how to explain the Las Vegas shooting to kids. Now, we have another shooting to talk about. This one at  First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs feels much closer to home. It’s just outside of San Antonio, just a little more than an hour away. And it’s in a house of worship, a place many of us go to seek comfort, where we bring our children to help them develop a moral compass.

 

Mona Rodriguez holds her 12-year-old son, J Anthony Hernandez, during a candlelight vigil after a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Last month, Jane Ripperger-Suhler, a child psychiatrist at Seton’s Texas Child Study Center, had this advice for parents about how much we should say about a shooting such as the one in Las Vegas or the one in Sutherland Springs.

We need to be careful about who is watching with TV with us and how we explain it.

“It really depends on the developmental level of the kids,” she says. Consider how you think your child will take what they see on TV, she says. “I wouldn’t watch a lot with preschooler.”

For kids already in school, you can watch some with them, but be prepared to talk about it and answer their questions. You can ask things like: “What do you think about this?” “What questions do you have?” Gage if they want to talk about it, but, she says, “I wouldn’t force them to talk about this.”

Dr. Jane Ripperger-Suhler is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Texas Child Study Center.

Explain things in the simplest yet factual way you can. You could say “A man shot some people at a concert. I guess he was upset about something,” she says. Or in this case: “A man walked into a church and shot people.”

You can focus on how you are feeling, that you’re upset and that you also don’t understand why this happened, but be careful about how you are reacting. “If a parent swoons or becomes frantic, a child is going to do likewise.”

Most importantly, remind kids that they are safe; that you will keep them safe, and when they are at school, their teachers will keep them safe.

If your child seems to be fixated on what happened in these shootings, you could encourage them to draw, build something or act something out, if they don’t want to talk about it.

If they don’t seem to be able to move on after a few days, are afraid to go to school, are too scared to go to bed, are having physical symptoms of stress or behavior problems, get them help sooner rather than later, Ripperger-Suhler says.

Be especially aware if a child has experience a trauma before. Watching this scene on TV will not cause post-traumatic stress disorder, she says, but it can be more traumatic and disturbing to some kids.

Ripperger-Suhler says it’s important to go about normal life. And that normal life means going to church on a Sunday.

If your child expresses some fear about it, reassure them that you will keep them safe.