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Charlottesville Violence: How to Help Your Kids Cope With Frightening Events

student memorials at UVA

Editor's note: We published this post in August 2017. We're updating it after the tragic shooting at the University of Virginia that killed three people and injured two others.

It's not easy to talk to children about frightening events such as the recent violence in Charlottesville, but this is one of the most important things you can do as a caring adult. Discussing these events in developmentally-appropriate language can help children feel safer and more secure, while also letting them know you are available and supportive. Don’t be afraid to talk to them! They need you, too.

Starting a Difficult Conversation

In an NBC29 story, Claudia Allen, MD, recommends staying as calm as you can.

Kids "read our emotions and our nonverbals, and they take their cue from us as to whether they should be afraid or not. So, you want to present yourself to them in a fairly calm manner, then what you want to do is you want to stick to the truth. This is not the time for white lies," she says.

Here are some other tips for your conversations:

Developmental Guidelines 

Younger Children (8 & under)

Older Children (8-12)


Helping Children Cope with Violence

Teen psychologist Haley Stephens, PhD, says, "It's important to set time limits," on your news and media consumption. "It's important to limit how you get news, to just check a few credible news sources." The same goes for your kids. Images from the event can be upsetting, especially when seen repeatedly.

You can also:

Signs of Stress in Children

Your child might show some signs of stress after a frightening event. This is normal and usually not a sign of more serious problems if the signs do not last long. If they last more than a week or two, talk to your child’s main doctor or a child mental health professional.

Possible Stress Symptoms

Take Care of Yourself, Too

Experiencing and talking about traumatic events can be exhausting. Be sure to do things that take care of yourself and lift your spirits in addition to taking care of your children. 

More Information: Talking to Kids about Frightening Events

Race, Ethnicity, and Racial Bias

Promoting Positive Development in Children

Sites That Help Kids Do Good (Common Sense Media)

How to Raise an Optimistic Human in a Pessimistic World (Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media)

Creating Opportunities for Children and Teens to Contribute (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Helping Parents and Caregivers

Recovering Emotionally From Disaster (APA)

UVA pediatric psychologists prepared and contributed this information. Thank you to Boston Children’s Hospital Division of Psychology, who reached out to share information based on their team’s experiences with traumatic events.

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