Mass Shootings: How to Talk to Our Children

By Krista Reed, LSCSW

On October 13, 2017, I was in Las Vegas for a training that was across the street from the Mandalay Bay.  Approximately one week prior, a man opened fire on country festival, Route 91 Harvest, from a broken window at Mandalay Bay.  58 people were killed, 422 people suffered injuries from gunfire, and another 851 individuals had injuries as a result of the attack (Andone & Sidner, 2018) During my lunch break, I decided to walk over to the hotel and pay my respects.  I briefly spoke with a police officer who appeared exhausted and was fighting back tears, and he pointed me in the direction of the memorials.  I recall standing at the Mandalay Bay staring at the festival stages and décor, which had not been taken down, and breaking down in tears.  Even being there a week later was intense; Las Vegas had never been so quiet.  It was clear from that moment, the city would never be the same.

One cannot watch the news anymore without hearing of a shooting with multiple injuries and/or killings.  Per Time Magazine, 2017 was the deadliest year in modern United States history for mass shootings (Wilson, 2017.)  Currently, the FBI does not have a definition of “mass shooting.”  Multiple media sources use the definition provided by a Reddit forum called “Mass Shooting Tracker.”  This website defines a mass shooting as, “an incident of violence in which 4 or more people are shot, including the shooter” (  According to the site, several mass shootings have already occurred in 2018.

As a mother of two, the thought of talking to my children about violence in the world is unsettling, but realistic and necessary.  Unfortunately, mass shootings are occurring more and more often, making this a “new normal” in our family’s lives. Before you sit your child down to talk about the details of a recent mass shooting, it is recommended to consider their  age.  Here are some age-by-age tips for how to have these difficult conversations with growing minds:

Ages 3-6: Safety is the main point of conversation with these ages, keeping the conversations simple and brief. Unless the child has been directly exposed to the violence, do not discuss this with them as this may cause more harm than good.  Discussing how “bad guys” and “good guys” are real, in simple terms, can be insightful at this age.  For example, have a conversation about how people in the world can hurt others and police officers, fire fighters, and teachers can protect us from those who may hurt us.  Fire/bad weather drills are always a good start in safety education. Parents can have conversations with the daycare providers/centers and/or schools about their safety plans.  Going over these plans at home can increase a child’s knowledge and understanding of safety.

Ages 7-10: This is quite the inquisitive age and we cannot shield our children from everything to which they are exposed from other children/adults 100% of the time.  Be prepared for questions about violence.  Active shooter drills will most likely be occurring in your child’s school.  Photos should not be shared of the violence, as their minds continue to struggle grasping this information; rather, photos of the heroes (e.g. police officers, firemen, etc.) can be shared. Allow the children to speak their feelings without judgment and have a further discussion of safety. Here is some more information about how to have these conversations with this age group from Mr. Rogers:

Ages 11-13: Starting a conversation with your pre-teen about the latest act of violence/mass shooting would be appropriate at this age.  If your child is aware of it, allow them to discuss their opinions and feelings without judgment.  For instance, if your child comes home and wishes to speak about the latest school shooting and expresses their fear and worries, don’t discount their emotions with comments such as, “That would never happen here” or “You worry too much.”  Unfortunately, we cannot predict where the next shooting will occur.  Rather, listen and name/validate the emotions your child is expressing.  If your child has not heard about it, briefly mention what occurred and allow your child to share as they please.  Again, a discussion of safety (school, community, home) is recommended.

Ages 14-17: Kids at these ages can be filled with strong opinions about safety, politics, and the cause for violence.  Teenagers typically seek out solutions, such as laws, education, and an understanding of social norms during these moments, and it is our role as parents/adults to listen and empathize (put ourselves in their shoes.)  A discussion of safety continues at this age, as well as the teenager’s role in assisting if they ever have any insight into a potentially violent situation.  For example, if your teenager is aware of another student’s plans to harm themselves or others, they need to report this to the school administrators and police officers instead of keeping this information to themselves.

Parents do not have to have all the answers.  The primary role of a parent throughout these discussions is to emphasize safety, listen and express empathy.  Children learn best when they feel heard and supported versus being given advice and instructions.  Although our world does have some people who are dangerous, our children do not need to feel as if their lives are in danger all the time.  Believe there is good in the world and your child will follow suit.


“About the Mass Shooting Tracker.” Mass Shooting Tracker,

Andone, Dakin, and Sara Sidner. “What We Learned from the Las Vegas Shooting Report.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Jan. 2018,

Wilson, Chris. “Texas Shooting: This Is Deadliest Year for Mass Shootings.” Time, Time, 6 Nov. 2017,