(Editor’s note: We originally ran this story on Oct. 27, 2018, the day of the shooting in Squirrel Hill. We wish we didn’t feel this was needed again. But as mass shootings have continued in America, we thought it might be valuable to re-run this story for parents facing the challenge of deciding when and how to discuss these events with their children.)
We talked to Dr. Debi Gilboa, a family physician at the Squirrel Hill Health Center who is known as Dr. G, about how to talk to your kids about the mass shooting that took place today in Squirrel Hill. When we spoke with the founder of AskDoctorG.com, she was on her way to the Saturday night vigil to drop off her own children, who were attending.
A mother of four, Dr. G appears frequently on the Today Show to give parenting advice, including this age-by-age guide created for talking with kids about violence.
Here’s what Dr. Gilboa had to say:
- If your child is age 8 or younger, and you are confident that they are not going to hear about this shooting somewhere else, Dr. G advises not bringing it up with such a young child. They will struggle to understand.
- If they are going to hear about it or are older, the first step is to process your own emotions and experience away from your kids, if you can.
- Then, for children 7 and under, it may be best to start with one small piece of information: “Some people died this weekend in Pittsburgh.” As they ask you follow-up questions, keep your answers brief and age-appropriate. It’s also very useful to ask your child what they know about the topic – what they’ve heard and what they think they know. Once you’ve discussed that, and they’ve stopped asking questions, she says, then you stop talking.
- It is important to answer all questions that they ask. And give a value to the situation as you discuss it: “It’s sad,” or “We’re thinking about those families.”
- Even as you are discussing something as painful as this subject, you can focus on the positive: Who are the heroes of the story? Take Mr. Rogers’ advice and “look for the helpers.”
- For older kids, find out what they know and ask them how they feel about it. Get their opinions and give them yours. This is a chance to reinforce your values.
- It’s best with younger children, Dr. G says, to avoid letting them see disturbing images of the shooting which can stick in their minds.
- Validate their feelings. And be sure to check back in within a few hours and again in a day.
- Choose action. Doing something makes us all feel better. Attend a vigil, donate to the synagogue, get together with friends to discuss.
- And if your child is having a hard time over the coming days and weeks, keep validating their feelings and spend time doing good with them.