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7 Moms On How They’re Talking To Their Kids About School Shootings

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photo: Carolyn Suzuki by Nicki Sebastian

A school shooting is a parent’s worst nightmare. Which is why millions of hearts across the country—and beyond—are absolutely shattered and paralyzed after the most recent massacre of 19 children and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas. This is the second deadliest school shooting since the murder of 20 children (all 6- and 7-year-olds) and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut one decade earlier (in 2012).

One of the scariest parts: there is not near enough being done to prevent this from happening again, even though it is absurdly clear what we need to do. With a colossal surge in gun ownership since the beginning of the pandemic (there are now more guns than people in the U.S.), data shows that in 2022 alone there have been 214 mass shootings (including the horrific racist murders of 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York) and 27 school shootings. Enough is clearly ENOUGH.

On top of dealing with our own heap of emotions with this most recent horror, parents are also grappling with how to talk to their children about something so devastating and terrifying. Below, we spoke with 7 moms about their personal stories of how they are talking to kids about school shootings and other acts of gun violence.

(To note: A Kids Co. is offering its A Kids Book About School Shootings as a free download, and here is how the American Psychological Association recommends talking to kids in the aftermath of a shooting).

Ruth Martin
Mother of a 10-year-old and 12-year-old.
Senior Vice President at MomsRising

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“Yes, about both. The school shooting understandably caused a lot of concern, especially for my 10-year-old fourth grader. She didn’t want to go to school. She was worried about how far away we live from the school and how long it would take us to come get her. My older kid is stuck on why we can’t keep kids safe and why our elected officials won’t do more to protect them. My middle schooler is on social media and so we talked to them about the shooting before school, wanting to do what we could to set the narrative and make sure she knew she could come talk to us about it and to try help make sense of all the news. Our younger daughter hasn’t wanted to talk much about it. Neither kid has been able to sleep in their own bed the last few nights.”

What is your message or “ask” for other mothers out there?
“We can’t stop fighting for the safety of our families and loved ones. Together, we have to take power away from useless lawmakers who are in the thrall of the gun lobby and replace them with lawmakers who protect us and our children. We need to mobilize now. I took the vow here and I’m asking everyone I know to do the same, to show up at local rallies and events as a show of force and solidarity, to talk to friends and family and urge them to take this vow too.”

Andrea Hawken
Mother of a 2-year-old, 5-year-old, and 11-year-old.
Founder of Fieldguide Los Angeles

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“I’m currently traveling without my two older children, so I wasn’t home for them when these recent shootings happened. Anya, my 2-year-old, isn’t verbal enough to understand current events. We have age-appropriate conversations about guns and what they do to people with some level of frequency. We don’t necessarily talk about the events in real time since too often we’re too sad to have the right words.”

“From a young age, when the kids would talk about ‘shooting bad guys,’ I always talk about everyone having parents, families, and friends who love them and would be so sad if they were gone. Just to make it abundantly clear that there is nothing good about violence and a loss of life. I talk about the seriousness of guns and my experience with them. My dad and I spent every Friday evening at the shooting range from the time I was 12 until I was 16. We abruptly stopped going after a friend of mine accidentally shot and killed his best friend. Our 11-year-old, Gabriel, is able to have more mature conversations and learn about current events. Like all of us, he is confused about why people are able to have guns at all. There’s a lot of hugging and a lot of, ‘I don’t know, baby.'”

“Most importantly, we try to leave him with a way to feel less hopeless, because that is the most defeating position to be in. We tell him about the importance of voting, and the power of speaking up—telling someone if he hears about someone who owns a gun or plans to do harm.”

What is your message or “ask” for other mothers out there?
“To all the other parents, do your best not to feel helpless. We will find a way to end gun violence if we keep fighting against it. Vote, educate, talk, share, donate, support those who oppose it, and talk to the future generations—it may feel like there’s not much we can do, but change can happen slowly if we work at it. Don’t lose hope.”

Temi Adamolekun
Mother of an 8-year-old.
Founder of Pembroke PR, Author of Your Special Voice

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“As a mother of a Black child, I couldn’t handle telling him about another Black massacre and a school shooting in the same week. I grew up in the U.K. where the number of mass shootings is pretty much zero because citizens can’t bear arms. I mean….that part is not complicated so why does America make it so? (See this great video!)”

“I checked in with other school mums to see how they had handled it. As always, that was an excellent reminder that others mums are awesome. They shared these resources which were useful (here, here). For our conversation, I gave him a general and honest overview of what happened in Texas. I also shared the news from earlier this week that a 2nd grade child in Sacramento had gone to school with a gun and his classmates reported him to the teachers who investigated and found indeed, the 7-year-old had a gun in his backpack (WTF?). That was a useful context to talk about the idea of trusting your instincts, if you see something off or that makes you feel nervous, or you feel is ‘for adults,’ tell a teacher, or a nearby adult, or tell us and we will handle it. He found it all sad and shocking that a child might want to hurt another, let alone shoot another. And he asked the question I keep asking, how did the kids manage to take a gun to school without their parents noticing?”

What is your message or “ask” for other mothers out there?
“There is no middle ground. And that’s not something to be afraid of. Picking some half-assed, half-way, compromised option leaves us compromised. All of us. Civilians shouldn’t be allowed to bear arms. It might take a long time, there’s a lot of money and power at stake so there will be a lot of pushback. But I really do honestly believe that’s the goal to fight for. People will always say something can’t be done until it is.”

“In terms of action, because to be clear, in the face of oppression and violence, the only way through is action—signing up to Everytown and following their prompts. They’ve been doing the work for a long time, so have so many ways in which we can all get involved and show up. Find your local chapter and show up however you can. Following Jamie B Golden and acting on the many prompts she shares. She has a script on how to call your senators and demand action. This is the government’s fault. And we the people need to let them know. There is so much power in your voice. Use it.”

Lindsay Meyer-Harley
Mother of an 8-year-old and 12-year-old.
Founder of Still We Rise and Darling Clementine

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“We did, we discussed the systems in place in this country that allow this to happen. They both experience active shooter drills at school and know more than I wish they had to know. Our children were quiet and didn’t ask much, I imagine there was a lot of fear involved. It’s hard to lie and tell them everything will be okay when we know, and I think they know that isn’t the truth. We do our best as parents but the realities are right outside our doors. This is so hard. I am writing this in tears.”

What is your message or “ask” for other mothers out there?
“My ask is to check in with your children, and if there’s something going on seek help, don’t brush off alarming behavior. SPEAK UP. And please, don’t allow your children to be around guns. Ask their friends’ parents if they have them in the home, don’t be afraid to ask, it can feel awkward at first but it matters. This can’t keep happening. enough already. enough.”

Susan Work
Mother of a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old.
Co-Founder of Homework

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“Our bodies are not designed to process this much grief, loss, pain, and terror—over and over again. Therefore, I’ve been prioritizing self-care so I can best show up for my small kids with fortitude. The school has so far advised us not to talk about gun violence with our 4-year-olds, but in the meantime, I am emphasizing the message of kindness to my preschooler and telling him to be kind to his friends. This morning I told him ‘do one thing for a friend today that makes them happy.’ I hope we can keep teaching our children not to leave others out. In a world of violence, we need kindness and inclusion more than ever.”

Sruti Nadimpalli, MD MPH
Mother to a 6-year-old and 9-year-old.
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“May 25th, 2022 was the first time I discussed this kind of event with my children. Being at different developmental stages, each one is looking to me for different types of information. Roan, my 9-year-old, is quite concrete and wants to understand the facts—where, who, what. The why is impossible to answer, of course, but the how creates an opening to talk about our shared values around guns, safety, and what we do to help and support people in our community. By contrast, Siya, who is 6, just needed to know that this happened far away, and that she is safe at school. They were both a bit shaken by the sheer scale of it, but I tried to remind them that, although bad things happen, people are almost always inherently good and want to help. And that helpers are everywhere, in the form of teachers, doctors, and other workers in our community. Sadly, given this latest tragedy, I also felt that I needed to make sure that they both knew what to do in an active shooter scenario. I am tearing up just thinking about that again.”

What is your message or “ask” for other mothers out there?
“It’s hard not to want to burn it all down right now, but I am channeling my rage into donations, calls to elected officials, and of course voting at every opportunity. If you live in a state that needs more common-sense gun control, and feel comfortable doing so, go to town halls and other public forums and get right in the faces of legislators, Beto-style. Make them answerable to their policy choices. No civilian—not a one—needs an AR-15.”

Mimi Chan
Mother to a 7-year-old and 3-year-old

Have you talked to your children about the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX?
“I talked to my oldest, Liv, who is 7-years-old, about the most recent mass shootings. We agreed how sad and tragic it is and I also explained to her how using her voice (and vote in the future) on issues that are important to her is a privilege she should not take for granted, because a representative should actually represent us and create laws in our best interest. Like stricter gun control to end mass shootings. I made a very simple diagram on how the three branches of our government work and how the senate needed to agree in order to make laws. But right now we’re not in agreement.”

“She followed up with her own notes. The reason she wrote ‘Trump’ on her notes is that’s the only other name (Biden is the other) that she knows from the last election. She asked what his position was and said he needed to help with gun control since he did not agree we needed to change our gun control laws. Not an easy subject to present to a 7-year-old, but I’ve always talked about current events as I don’t think shielding them from reality is helpful. This was not a politics discussion. This was a safety discussion.”

If you would like to share your own story in the comments below, please do.

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