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Colorado Dark Knight theater shootings: How to talk to your kids about violence

After the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater during a midnight premiere of Dark Knight Rises, the newest Batman film series installment, you may be wondering how much detail to share with your child — if any at all.

Read on for helpful information on how to talk to your kids about violence and how they can feel safe at the movies.

People around the world woke up to news of the worst sort on Friday morning — at a midnight showing of the highly-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman shot dozens of people, killing at least 12 and wounding many more, including children. As shock spread throughout our communities, parents may wonder how to talk with their kids about this terrible event.

“All families feel the fear and apprehension created by these tragic circumstances,” said National PTA President Betsy Landers. “We all share in the sense of loss and hurt.” PTA has developed resources for parents on how to handle questions, thoughts and feelings after a tragedy such as this one. Here are a few suggestions.


Explore your own feelings

Come to terms with your own feelings. Talk it over with your sister, your parents, your friends and your co-workers. It’s easier to talk with your kids when you’re done processing and dealing with the information yourself.


Honesty is the best policy

Your children will do best when you are honest with them. If you are visibly upset or nervous, let them know what has happened instead of glossing over the story. They may think that you are upset with them, for example, or that something is wrong with a family member.


Listen to them

Listen, really listen to your children. Treat them with respect and avoid dismissing their questions or concerns. It’s important that they feel validated. One strategy is to repeat back your children’s question to make sure you fully understand it — this way they can agree with you that you’ve understood the question correctly or let you know that they meant something else.


Reassure your child

Let your children know that this was an isolated incident and is unlikely to happen to them the next time they go to a theater. Consider your child’s age — for example, a preschooler will be reassured by a few words such as, “I will keep you safe.” A teen, however, can deal with more details, such as what additional security measures are taking place to prevent any copycat shootings.


Spare some details, but share your feelings

Don’t shield your children from the story, but you don’t have to go into specific details about the shooting with younger children, which may frighten them even further. Feel free to express your feelings of sadness or anger — it’s healthy for children to see the adults in their lives feel serious emotions.

The story continues to unfold, but be there for your children — they need adult guidance, honesty and reassurance in times of uncertainty and tragedy.

More on feelings and emotions

Help your child understand emotions
How to help kids manage their emotions
Explaining world tragedy to children

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