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How do I help my kids cope when community violence happens around us?

Communication Activities

Children may encounter community violence in different ways. They may be a witness, see TV news coverage or hear adults and/or peers talk about these tragic events. Children are often left with many questions. Even if a child didn’t directly experience a traumatic event, it is not uncommon for children to feel anxiety and fear as they try to understand how these community events impact their lives.

While children may experience a variety of emotions in response to events occurring in their community and across the country, they may have difficulty knowing how to cope with their sadness, confusion and anger. Providing a positive, supportive relationship with a distressed child will help them to express their thoughts and emotions.

Children look to their parents and caregivers to help cope with this wide range of emotions. Here are some ways caregivers can support their child’s emotional expression and establish a sense of security:

  1. Ground yourself. Give yourself a few minutes to make sure that you are in a place to have this conversation. 
  2. Settle: Stop and sit with them – create a calm, quiet environment together.
    • Turn off the news and limit any exposure to images, videos, etc. 
    • Assure safety. Remind your child that they are safe and it is your job to protect them. 
    • Practice 4-7-8 breathing together – 4 seconds inhale, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, repeat. Lead by example.
  3. Listen: Ask simple questions, reflect on what you hear.
    • If your child has already heard about or seen this event take place, you can ask the following:
      • What do you know about [incident]?
      • What are you feeling? 
      • Where in your body are you feeling that?
    • Validate any feelings they might be having.
      • I.e. “It makes sense that you feel angry.”
  4. Explain in an age appropriate way.  
    • For younger elementary aged children:
      • Keep explanations simple and brief. 
      • Reassure of safety measures. 
    • For older children and teens:
      • Correct any misconceptions or misinformation that they have heard. 
      • Allow them to ask questions and answer any questions as honestly as possible. 
  5. Take action. Feelings of trauma are intensified by feeling powerless. Discuss actions you can take as a family.
    • Create a safety plan.
      • Discuss what you can do as a family if a similar situation would occur. 
      • If applicable, learn about the school’s safety plan and what the school is doing to keep students safe. 
    • Use coping skills
      • Tell a story or read a book together.
      • Go on a walk in your neighborhood.
      • Watch a non-stressful video or show.
      • Make an easy, simple meal together.
      • Create some art, even if it is as simple as coloring books.
      • Blow bubbles together, it encourages deep breathing. 
    • Consider community involvement
      • Taking a stand can help increase feelings of ownership and decrease traumatic feelings.

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Community Violence: 

  1. Turn off the news.
    • It can be easy to forget that our children are listening and absorbing any media or conversations happening around them. 
    • Try and protect your children from any disturbing images or descriptions that will increase feelings of trauma or anxiety. 
  2. Talk with your kids.
    • While it is important to filter information, this does not mean avoiding the topic completely. 
    • Children are likely to hear about the event from various sources such as school or peers. 
    • Open up the topic and let them know they can come to you with any questions or concerns. 
  3. Create a sense of safety.
    • Anxiety increases when children feel unsafe. 
    • Create a family safety plan and ensure that they know how  they can remain safe. 
    • Lead with confidence by remaining calm and not adding to your child’s fears. 
    • Discuss with school their plans and prepare your child for things like active shooter drills, fire drills, etc. 
  4. Allow expression of feelings.
    • Consider creating art, music, or writing about feelings to help process the event. 
    • Use a feeling chart to help identify feelings about the event. 
  5. Take care of your own needs.
    • When a community crisis occurs, it is often upsetting for you as an adult and a parent. 
    • Find other adults to discuss your feelings and receive support from. 
    • Consider getting involved in creating community change. 
  6. Look for red flags of trauma.
    • PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, can also occur when a child or teen witnesses a traumatic event.
  • Look for the following:
    • Not wanting to go to school
    • Avoiding a location or person that is a reminder of the trauma
    • Nightmares 
    • Flashbacks
    • Repetitive play of traumatic incident
    • Spacing out 
    • Trouble concentrating 
    • Aggressive behaviors 
    • Bedwetting 
  • Seek professional help if you believe your child is displaying any of these symptoms.


Books for kids and teens about communication