How to Talk to Your Kids About Gun Violence
In this public service announcement, Dr. George Vergolias, Chief Medical Director of R3 Continuum, offers guidance on how to talk about gun violence with your kids.
George Vergolias: [00:00:00] Hello. My name is George Vergolias. I’m the Medical Director for R3 Continuum. I am a forensic psychologist and a certified threat manager with 20 years of experience, specializing in workplace violence and school violence. Most importantly, I’m also a father of a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son.
At R3 Continuum, our primary and passionate mission is to help organizations adjust to, manage and navigate through difficult disruptive events, including violent incidents. Last week, we collectively witnessed the heinous hate crime in Buffalo, New York, with the killing of 10 black community members at the Tops grocery store, most of them elderly. And we barely absorbed that event, until yesterday, once again, we woke up and bore witness to the attack at an elementary school in Texas, resulting in the deaths of two adult teachers and 19 children – second, third and fourth graders.
There are few words that can capture the outrage, the emotional reaction, the despair that comes with these events. Although we, at R3, can’t change these events having occurred, we can offer tools to make a positive impact. And towards that goal, I want to offer five tips for speaking with children about gun-related violence.
The first tip is that you should talk to them about their worries and concerns openly. Ask open-ended questions to understand what do they know, what are some misconceptions they have, what do they understand about the event. Express feelings about the event. Get them to open up about that, and express their feelings and thoughts. And then, you should also share your feelings as well. And you want to adjust that to their developmental age.
Secondly, adjust your dialogue to what you think they can handle emotionally. Kids at different age ranges and even kids at the same age range with different maturity levels will react differently to these events. Kids that have been previously traumatized may have a more difficult reaction, and you need to adjust that dialogue and that discussion accordingly.
Number three, reassure them about safety. These attacks are high impact, but they are low probability events. They’re unlikely to occur in any given school or any given school district. It’s also important to remind children about all the wonderful and exceptional measures that schools have taken to develop threat management teams, threat assessment, and reaction protocols and security protocols. In total, schools are a pretty safe place to be for kids and one of the most safe environments for them to be in the aggregate. And it’s important to remind them of that.
Four, reduced exposure to media and social media. This is not the time for information overload, particularly information that may not be accurate or may have been created simply for sensationalistic purposes in order to get clicks or additional views. We want to be cautious of exposing them too much to that. Ideally, you would want to titrate their exposure to those situations and that media over time, so they’re not overwhelmed.
Many of our kids, including my 14-year-old and 12-year-old, have their phones. It may be very difficult to get their phones back from them at this age with how much they’re involved in activity and social media. So, rather than trying to completely take the phone away, what you may want to do is some of the older teens where that might be more difficult, you want to at least check in with them periodically – once a day, twice a day – about what they’re hearing about these events, what they’re seeing online, what they’re being exposed to. And the goal there is to be able to correct any misinformation and give them an avenue to digest the information and talk it through. It’s really important to give them that opportunity.
Five, maintain regular routines and model healthy behavior. This is really important. Our kids will look to us for normalcy, as well as when something is not normal or off. And by maintaining regular habits, that becomes critical because these habits are are behavioral anchors to what is normal, and routine and comfortable in our life. And we want to model that and continue to show that in our daily interactions with them. To the extent possible, we want to continue those as much as we can. We can be sad, we can express outrage, we can express anger. Those are human emotions and they’re very normal in response to these events, but we also want to model a proper and productive way of managing those emotions and coping well through those events. And we want to be able to show our kids how to do that effectively.
This list is not exhaustive, but these are very easy take-and-used tips that you can utilize talking with children, and preteens and teenagers about gun violence, about the recent events in the last few weeks that hopefully can get them to express and open up a dialogue and be productive. Thank you for listening. Take care of yourself and take care of those you love.
About R3 Continuum
R3 Continuum (R3c) is a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. R3c helps ensure the psychological and physical safety of organizations and their people in today’s ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Through their continuum of tailored solutions, including evaluations, crisis response, executive optimization, protective services, and more, they help organizations maintain and cultivate a workplace of wellbeing so that their people can thrive. Learn more about R3c at www.r3c.com.
R3 Continuum is the underwriter of Workplace MVP, a show which celebrates the everyday heroes–Workplace Most Valuable Professionals–in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite who resolutely labor for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption.