How families can cope with mass shooting events: advice from a mental health expert & resources

11 min read
July 21, 2022

It feels like every day, there is gun violence in the media. Processing the images from Buffalo to Uvalde and Highland Park can be hard for adults, but even harder for kids.

“I think, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice,” said Tim DeWeese, the director of Johnson County Mental Health Center, in an interview with Kansas City local news reporter Leslie DelasBour. Tim DeWeese says while it may be hard for adults to process the reoccurring events, it is important that adults also understand how this complex trauma can impact children in a different, often more intense way. One important factor is looking for changes in behavior that are difficult to resolve or work through and are persistent in nature.

Signs a Child is Struggling to Process These Tragic Events

Some common signs to look for in kids potentially having a rough time processing tragic current events include:

  • Fear of being alone
  • Clinginess or attention-seeking behavior (e.g., trying to get into a little bit of trouble with their parents)
  • Difficulty sleeping or having bad dreams/nightmares
  • Difficult paying attention
  • Being abnormally quiet or withdrawn

Coping Tips for Families

DeWeese says that in order for families to cope with the news of tragic events across our country in a healthy manner, it’s important that parents first talk with their kids. Here are some tips for parents to help their kids cope with tragic news:

  • Be honest and open with them and talk with them about the facts that are appropriate for their age
  • Listen to what they have to say, to validate the normalcy of their feelings and their reactions
  • Reassure them that they are safe
  • Be emotionally and physically available to them
  • Be patient

DeWeese also advises that parents can help their kids cope with disturbing images and news by putting away devices to help limit recurring trauma.

“We are not just sitting in front of the TV for just hours and hours watching it because, in essence, it retraumatizes us, and so I think that we have to be really thoughtful about that,” DeWeese said.

While controlling screen time is one way to manage reoccurring trauma, what about moving around in the real world? For adults and families, the anxiety of being in a public space is a real challenge, but increasing your situational awareness of what’s going on around you can make all the difference.

“We can be thoughtful and strategic about what we do and how we do it and how we plan for activities,” DeWeese said. “By simply doing those things, being aware, being thoughtful about it, having it in the back of our mind, that actually can help reduce our anxiety again. We need to be able to talk about it. We need to realize that it’s a natural response to what we have seen happen within our communities, but that we can manage that and we can learn how to mitigate that.”

If you were forwarded this email, join 474 other friends and click here to subscribe! Become more brain health literate every week...

Resources for Children, Families, and Schools

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Resources on Mass Violence

Resources for Children, Youth, Parents and Other Caregivers, and Schools

Resources from the National Mass Violence and Victimization Resource Center

Resources from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University

Sources –
No items found.