How to Talk to Children About Gun Violence

Prerna Arora, assistant professor of school psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University, offers some advice.

May 27, 2022

In the span of less than two weeks, an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., were shattered by gun violence, leaving family and friends to suffer from unspeakable loss.

People around the world are still reeling—and will for some time—from these horrific tragedies in which more than 30 individuals, the majority of whom were children, were murdered. 

For parents and guardians, especially, it can be a struggle to know what to say to their own school-aged children about this horrible news. To offer some guidance, Columbia News reached out to Prerna Arora, assistant professor of school psychology at Teachers College, which is affiliated with Columbia University. Here's what she had to say. 

As a psychologist and educator, I think it is critical to first take a developmental approach to this communication.

What a 6-year-old will need to hear will likely be different than a 16-year-old. For young kids, if parents choose to approach the topic, offering very simple information and ensuring children that they are safe is best.

For older children, engaging children in a calm conversation, answering any questions they may have, and offering reassurance is recommended.

For teenagers, actively listening and being available to talk, answering their questions and helping them understand their feelings can be beneficial.

Generally, I suggest parents limit the amount of news coverage and stay away from graphic details.