PM Pediatrics

Dr. Christina Johns
Senior Medical Advisor, PM Pediatrics

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Talking With Your Kids About Tragic Events

Waking up today to learn about the largest deadliest mass shooting in US history, with over 58 people dead and over 500 injured in Las Vegas, was not at all the way I wanted to be inspired for a blog topic. I’ve stayed a bit out of the “lane of controversy” on the topic of gun violence because I haven’t wanted the discussion to deviate into the political fray related to the second amendment and divert the energy of the subject away from the child health issues related to gun violence.

But I can’t stay silent anymore. This is a public health crisis.

My TV is on in the background right now, recounting the harrowing details of this senseless and random act of violence where one deranged person took the lives of many. Tragedy, indeed.

In addition to my heartbreak for the victims and their families, I can’t stop thinking about what this means for my kids, and yours too.

It is unthinkable to me that our kids are growing up in a society in which this kind of violence has become routine, but if you look at the numbers (over 30 this year alone) this appears to be the case. How is this going to affect their physical and mental health?

Statistics about guns and children are readily available in the public domain and note that the negative effects are increasing. Journal articles abound with data that tell us that:

  1. Children who live in a home with guns are more likely to be injured or killed by those same guns.
  2. Children who live in a home where firearms are kept locked up are less likely to sustain penetrating trauma from guns.
  3. Regions with stricter gun laws have lower rates of injuries to children due to firearms.

More related statistics can be found here.

The numbers have been publicized before. Gun violence has been on the increase and it seems like now we only react with shock and horror when large numbers are killed or injured.  NBC News reported that just yesterday in the Midwest, 3 people were killed by another shooter, but it never made the headlines or even second page news. Is this the new normal?

How can we make sure that we ourselves don’t become numb to these horrible events, and  how do we make sure that our children don’t become numb either…or worse, that they become so fearful that they are hesitant to attend events like concerts, sporting events, or local festivals?

Talking to kids about a tragic event like this isn’t easy, but it’s important.

  1. Be calm and reassuring about your kids’ safety.
  2. Dispel any misinformation that your children may be receiving.
  3. Let them ask questions and be a good listener.
  4. Teach them age-appropriate ways to help others in need.
  5. Keep up normal routines. We must continue to move forward and not live in fear.

Some good external resources are linked here:

  1. Healthychildren.org
  2. PBS.org
  3. JAMA

But what else can you do?

  1. Examine your own beliefs about this issue. Know yourself and that your children will adopt your values and mimic your actions. Ask yourself “Am I demonstrating good behaviors on this issue in front of my children?”
  2. Donate blood. Mass casualty incidents like this require large supplies of all blood types. If you plan to do this, tell your kids about it in an age-appropriate way, and teach them how it helps others in need.
  3. Be aware of your and your children’s mental health as it relates to these events. Avoiding exposure to violent movies, television programs and video games can help limit anxiety and fear. Don’t hesitate to speak to a doctor, counselor, social worker or mental health professional sooner rather than later if you are concerned that your child’s emotional health is affected and you’re not sure how to manage it.
  4. Find out what is being done by your child’s school or day care. Are counselors publicly available to help your child talk through their emotions? Do they have their own plan to keep the school secure and a plan to ensure safety if there is a security breach?

I’m in shock and disbelief today, but I’m also hearing about the first responders and members of the public who, yet again, rally in their humanity and heroism. These people keep my hope alive that in the end good triumphs over evil and that love always wins.

Hug your kids tight today.

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