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How to Talk with Children About the Uvalde School Shooting
Many parents and caregivers are struggling with how to talk with their children about the Uvalde school shooting. It is important to remember that children look to the adults around them to help them feel safe. This is true no matter what ages your children are.
Parents and caregivers will need to manage their own emotions. It is important for parents to take care of themselves while taking care of their children. Families need to decide what message they want to share with their children about this tragic event that is consistent with their family values. Some families may want their children to know that a bad person hurt people. Others may want their children to know that someone with a serious illness felt angry and that many people were harmed as a result.
When we are not sure what to say, many adults choose to remain quiet, but it is very important to let most children know that it is OK to talk about this terrible event (for an exception, see Preschool Children section below). Adults need to start the conversation, even if their children do not. We need to let children know we are interested in what they have heard and want to know how they are coping with the information.
Overall, it is most important to listen to your child. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel in this situation. Allow your child to express themselves in the way they wish to. Don't interrupt — allow them to share their ideas and understanding before you respond.
If your child does not ask any questions or say anything about the event, do not press them. Spend time with them, keep a routine, and remain open to future conversations.
Finally, use conversations to reinforce the ideas of safety and security. If you know, share what schools and communities are doing to increase safety. Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort, and support.
For other questions or additional resources at Texas Children’s please call our Behavioral Health Resource Line at 832-826-4867 or visit our Psychology and Psychiatry Department websites.
With young children, if there is a way to shield them from experiencing this tragedy, do so. If they do not have access to information about the shooting and it will not impact their lives directly, it may be best to avoid talking with them at all, given developmental differences in their ability to comprehend such a tragic and complex situation.
If there is no way to shield them, the best approach is to keep things simple and straightforward: Something terrible happened yesterday. What questions do you have about that, and how are you feeling?
Respond in developmentally appropriate terms and consider focusing on the helpers and heroes of the story.
Elementary Age Children:
Children in this age group will ask many more questions and parents need to decide how much they want to share. Answering honestly, but with limited information about the things children do not ask about.
Limit exposure to social media and the news. When children bring information to you, listen to their understanding and gently correct misperceptions or misinformation. Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs.
Reinforce that all feelings are OK and share your own feelings in a way that demonstrates coping. You might simply say, "This makes me really sad."
Tweens and Teens:
Start the conversation by assuming they have heard information about the shooting and that only some of it may be accurate. Listen to their feelings, which are likely to be more complex and evolving as more information about the tragedy emerges. During these conversations, parents and caregivers have an opportunity to share their beliefs while gaining better insight into how their children view things.
With this age group, parents can share their own feelings in a more open way, highlighting the complexities of the situation. Teaching older children and teenagers to work toward change will help them be resilient.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed resources to help children, families, educators, and communities navigate what they are seeing and hearing, acknowledge their feelings, and find ways to cope together. These resources are not affiliated with Texas Children's Hospital, but please find the links below:
- Talking to Children about the Shooting
- Helping Youth After a Community Trauma: Tips for Educators (En Español)
- Talking to Children: When Scary Things Happen (En Español)
- Talking to Teens about Violence (En Español)
- Tips for Talking to Students about Violence
- Coping After Mass Violence: For Adults
- For Teens: Coping After Mass Violence(En Español)
- Helping School-Age Children with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers (En Español)
- Helping Teens with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers (En Español)
- Helping Young Children with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers (En Español)
- Guiding Adults in Talking to Children about Death and Attending Services
- After a Crisis: Helping Young Children Heal
- Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event
- Once I Was Very Very Scared – children's book for young children
- After the Injury—website for families with injured children
- Health Care Toolbox—website for pediatric health providers working with injured children
- Pause-Reset-Nourish (PRN) to Promote Wellbeing (En Español) (for responders)