How to Talk to Kids About Gun Violence

Note: This post was originally published in 2018, and has been consistently updated by PJ Library staff. The most recent update was made in October 2023.

Being a parent is full of worries: are the kids happy? Are they eating enough? Do they like their teacher? And, especially as kids get older, hard questions. As parents and educators ourselves, the staff at PJ Library are often grappling with the same difficult conversations and tough questions as the parents in our communities. Unfortunately, as we were reminded again this weekend, gun violence is a subject we're all finding we need to visit much earlier than we'd like.

To be honest, we don't want to have to write a blog post about how to talk to your kids about gun violence. But we can't ignore reality--both what is happening in our country and what you, our families, are asking us for help with. Sadly, with gun violence becoming an epidemic in the US, many of us are forced to have to talk to our kids about this topic far sooner than we’d like. And as parents, we are being forced to confront our own anxieties about safe spaces for our kids as well, along with how or what we would do if our family or community was affected by a tragedy like the events this weekend in El Paso and Dayton.

small boy hugging his parent

We want parents to know that you don’t have to have these discussions on your own. It’s also okay to feel overwhelmed or at a loss as to where to start. We developed the “How to Talk to Kids” series to give care-takers of children guiding points and starting places for mapping these conversations with your own families.

Below, parents and educators will find a link round-up with helpful guides for addressing this issue as well as a short book list and a few videos.

For more resources for families please see:
How to Talk to Kids About Scary Situations
Videos to Help Kids Through Scary Situations
How to Talk to Kids About Anti-Semitism


The following pieces offer step-by-step advice for parents. The guide from TODAY Parents features recommendations from a variety of experts for children of all ages, from toddler to teen. A key message and theme is to make sure that, as a parent, you give yourself time to process news first and keep what you tell your children simple, direct, and use conversations as an opportunity to reinforce your family’s own values.

Helping Children Cope With Frightening News via the Child Mind Institute
Helping Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting via American Psychological Association
How to Talk to Kids About Shootings: An Age by Age Guide via TODAY Parents
How to Talk to Kids About School Safety via HuffPost Parents
How to Talk to Kids About Shootings and Gun Violence via Scientific America


For Parents:
How To Talk To Your Kids About The Shootings in El Paso and Dayton via ABC News


For Children:
Big Feelings: Sesame Street, Here for Each Other via Sesame Street in Communities

Children’s Books

The site, has published a comprehensive book list and guide for parents: How to talk to kids about shootings – Picture books that help that parents and educators may want to bookmark.

Another book list with fantastic recommendations for older children, (ages 7 and up), is from Literary Safari’s #ArmMeWithBooks initiative: #ARMMEWITHBOOKS: A Book List for Young People in the Age of School Shootings.

The following titles are not PJ Library books but are recommended reads from educators and counselors we spoke with to prepare this piece:

A Terrible Thing Happened

A Terrible Thing Happened
by Margaret M. Holmes

Recommended for ages 4 to 8

Healing Days
Susan Farber Straus PhD

Recommended for ages 6 - 11

Once I was Very Very Scared

Once I Was Very Very Scared
Chandra Ghosh Ippen

Recommended for ages 5 and up

Whimsy's Heavy Things

Whimsy’s Heavy Things
by Julie Kraulis

Recommended for ages 4-6


Related: Children’s Books to Read After the Violence in Pittsburgh


For more resources for families please see:
How to Talk to Kids About Scary Situations
Videos to Help Kids Through Scary Situations
How to Talk to Kids About Anti-Semitism

Listen: Talking To Kids About Violence In the News – a special episode for parents from the But Why Podcast

Crystal Talks About School Shootings from the A Kids Book About: The Podcast About

We will continue to update this post over time as well. Please join the conversation on our Facebook page or email us if you have any questions about the content in this post.