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Hispanic father talking to his teenage son.

Mass Shootings: Seeing Eyes, Listening Ears

"Mama, you are not going to like this." This was the opening conversation led by my 8-year-old daughter as she proceeded to tell me about the mass shooting that occurred in Buffalo. At first, I just listened as she explained the details as she understood them. Many of the facts were jumbled like a mismatched jigsaw puzzle that she was trying to piece together. She was disturbed that this information was on the news and that "people would be angry." But she did not fully comprehend the gravity of the event.

Once she had an opportunity to get the information out, there was much to clarify and process. Although the news reported the shooter had on armor, she heard “army.”

“There was a man in the army that hurt people.” She was trying to fill in the gaps of her understanding with vocabulary and context that was familiar to her.

This was the first time she verbalized being aware of a mass shooting. She overheard the news while out of our care; however, even in our home when we think we are careful to shield our children from adult conversation, their keen ears soak up so much of what is in their environment. I'm thankful that she shared what she heard so we could process this information together.

Before I could complete this blog, two more mass shootings occurred in our nation and several more incidents of gun violence were reported in Hampton Roads. As an adult, I felt grief, anger, frustration, a sense of caution, and helplessness for our deeply broken system. On the other hand, I needed to help my child make sense of what she thought she understood. My children are all different and would each process the information differently and vary in their emotional responses from passive to anxious.

I want to preserve my children's childhood and equip them for the realities of the world we live in. This requires me to continuously shift to their fluctuating developmental needs as they experience their world. I cannot protect them from every dark encounter, but I can walk with them through it and address some challenging topics proactively. In the meantime, we will continue to limit their (and our own) consumption of the news for our mental health, create a space for open discussion, support their ongoing developmental needs, and provide play opportunities to help destress. This will look different for each of my children and for your child based on their personality, age, and natural way of coping.

There is no perfect solution when we try to make sense out of what feels so senseless. May each of you and your family find hope, comfort, and a call to action.

For more information on talking with children about traumatic events, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network site: For information specific to talking to children about mass shootings, follow this link for parent tips.

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About Jeane N. Liburd, MA, CCLS

About Jeane N. Liburd, MA, CCLS Jeané Liburd has worked in the field of child Iife since 2005. She earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and is trained in play therapy. She currently serves as an adjunct instructor for Liberty University. Throughout her career, she has provided services for children and families in various settings including hospitals, pediatric hospice, and community programs. The focus of her work is supporting children and families who have experienced illness, grief, and loss.

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