Talking to Children About Community Violence

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. Make time to talk. Help your child cope by encouraging them to express their thoughts.
    • Ask direct open-ended questions (“How are feeling about …?”).
    • Model emotion expression (“I am feeling sad… I wonder how you are feeling?”). This communication helps children know that upset emotions can be tolerated.
    • Encourage children to ask their questions. Answer these questions with simple language.
    • Respect your child’s feelings by listening to their concerns and fears.
    • Discuss the ways or things that you as a caregiver/parent do to keep your child safe so they know they have your help and support.
    • If your child is fearful that he or she will be in a violent situation, discuss ways to resolve conflicts peacefully and make smart decisions to protect themselves.
  2. Take a media break. Limit your child’s television and internet viewing about current events, as the media often repeats coverage of these types of events.
  3. Maintain routine. Routine provides children with a sense of security. Keeping with your normal day-to-day activities can lessen the feeling that the world is out of control.
  4. Create a safety plan. Identify adults your child can talk to if they feel threatened. Discuss places that are safe for your child to go to in times of immediate need when you are not with them (for example a neighbor’s or relative’s house, your church, school, or the police station).
  5. Seek support. Consider seeking the help of a mental health professional to help treat prolonged symptoms of distress. These symptoms can include: changes in behavior and emotions, increased irritability or defiance, difficulty in school, challenges with sleep or eating, trouble concentrating, and increased emotional outbursts, worries, fears, separation anxiety or regressive behaviors.

Washburn Center encourages parents to engage in dialogue with their children and shares these resources from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) to help understand how community violence and the media coverage of these events may be affecting children and youth.

Community Violence: Reactions and Actions in Dangerous Times

Psychological Impact of the Recent Shooting

Helping Young Children with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers

Helping School-Age Children with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers

Helping Teens with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers


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