UAB clinical psychologist offers tips for helping children cope with mass violence/complex issues

How can you help your child understand what happened at the Pulse in Orlando?  UAB’s Josh Klapow offers some suggestions.

crime sceneClinical psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D., in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says children in particular will be at a loss in understanding, processing and coping with the myriad issues surrounding the devastating Orlando shooting.

“The shooting in Orlando not only is unthinkable, but has brought together many difficult, controversial topics all in a single tragedy,” Klapow said. “As much as we struggle with the loss of life from this event, we also struggle with the highly volatile topics represented. From terrorism to second amendment rights, to homosexuality, to religious freedom, to the influence of the internet, to the safety of daily life. The stories that will be covered in the days and weeks to come will be difficult, especially for children.”

Klapow says children need to understand how to process, not only the great tragedy, but also the concepts of gun control, public safety, sexuality, religious freedom and more. And in the midst of a contentious political election season, the rhetoric will be strident and pervasive.

Klapow offers some do’s and don’ts for parents:


  • Listen to their questions and fears no matter how random or tangential — they are processing this, and what concerns them may be different from what concerns you.
  • Use this as a time to convey your availability to talk at any time — recognizing that kids may not want to talk right now.
  • Communicate that these are very difficult topics and that you want to know their opinions.
  • Go with their flow. Ask them open-ended question to let them drive the conversation.


  • Don’t assume that what is bothering you is bothering them. You may be focused on gun control, and they may be concerned with gay rights.
  • Don’t try to lay out your perspective in a lecture format. Your beliefs are important, but right now this is not about convincing them as much as connecting with them.
  • Don’t expect them to be able to articulate what they feel in a completely coherent manner. Random thoughts and fears are common at a time like this.
  • Don’t shut down the conversation by disagreeing with them as soon as you hear something that may not fit your view. This is about helping them process and heal, not about a debate.