Talking to Kids About the Orlando Pulse Massacre

Talking to kids about the Orlando Pulse Massacre—and yes, that’s what I call it, a massacre—is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do. And talk about it, you will. You’ll have no choice. Because it’s been plastered all over the news. It’s what people are talking about. Unless you blindfold your child and stick earplugs in his/her ears, there’s no getting around it.

Why don’t we want to talk about the Orlando Pulse Massacre with our kids? Let me count the ways. For one thing: there’s the problem of intolerance. We don’t want to teach our children to be bigots, and Radical Islamic terror is at the heart of what happened in Orlando.

Then there’s the fact that it, the Orlando Pulse Massacre, happened in a gay bar. The murderer, Omar Mateen, purposely targeted homosexuals. At what age do we want to speak with our children about matters sexual? How much do we need tell them? Do we use euphemisms, talking about love when we really mean “sexual preference?”

Orlando Pulse Massacre: Innocent Victims

And of course, there’s the violence: the brutal murder of innocent people, just out having a good time, by someone who didn’t know them. Someone who didn’t know, for instance, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, there to celebrate her victory over cancer and to support her openly gay son, and who ended up shielding him from gunfire with her own body. How do we explain how someone brave and nurturing like that, a mom, gets shot to death in a case of mistaken identity?

How does God and/or society allow something like that to happen to a mom?

How do we explain violence and evil? How do we explain the pros and cons of gun control in a fair manner, so they can learn to use their critical thinking skills? How do we discuss a passionate issue with both compassion and logic?

These are just some of the challenges we have as parents when we begin to talk about Orlando. (Remember when “Orlando” was just a reference to a fun time at an amusement park?)

The most important piece of advice I have for parents is to let your children be your guide. Listen to their questions. Answer their questions with honesty, giving them the facts they’ve requested and no more. Your children’s questions tell you what they are ready to hear. In fact, they may want to hear more than you feel comfortable discussing. Nonetheless, a child’s questions are your best guide in choosing what to share and what to keep to yourself.

If that question and your response bring further questions, continue to provide factual information, keeping your responses to the point. The point being to answer the question and not give a long, drawn out lecture. Keep it short and sweet. If they want to know more, they’ll ask, but only so long as you prove to them you’re not going to drown them in data or tell them things they’re not ready to hear.

What does it mean to give factual information? It means that if your child asks why the murderer did what he did, you tell them the truth: Omar Mateen believed in killing those who were different from him in some way.

Because that is the truth.

If your child then asks why Mateen believed as he did, you can add a fact: Omar Mateen believed that God wanted him to kill people who were different from him.

The next why can be answered with, “Some Muslims believe that they are supposed to kill people different from them.”

The next probably question will be: “Do all Muslims believe this?” to which you can truthfully answer, “No.” (For more about discussing Islam with children, see:

At some point, your values system may dictate how the conversation goes, and that’s fine. But remember to preface any statement of belief with, “I believe that,” or “I feel that” or “Our religion says  such and such.”

There may be gaps between questions as your child thinks things over. Be ready for questions to come out of the blue. And always serve the truth straight up.

If you sense your child is distressed, try to offer your child an outlet for his/her feelings. For instance, ask the child how s/he feels. If it is difficult for your child to express emotions, give the child paper and crayons and let them draw how they feel. Then look at the picture together and let your child explain what the drawing is about. Try not to freak if there’s blood or violence in your child’s drawing. It’s there because your child is upset about that, about the blood and violence that are part and parcel of the Orlando Pulse Massacre.

If your child has trouble sleeping at night or has his or her sleep disturbed by nightmares, try to include some calming rituals before bedtime to soothe your child’s troubled thoughts. A warm bath scented with chamomile flowers, some soft music, a cuddle: all these things are very concrete ways to help your child find comfort and a way to sweeter dreams.

As part of your conversation about the Orlando Pulse Massacre, you’ll want to discuss how to prevent such a thing from ever happening. You may also want to help your child do something kind to counteract the cruelty. Perhaps your child could write a letter to the survivors and remaining family members, expressing condolences. You might suggest your child might give charity, or do an act of kindness for a neighbor, and dedicate these acts to the memory of the victims. There are many creative and proactive ways your child can memorialize the massacre and this can’t help but be healing, both for your child, and for the world at large.

If your child remains disturbed about the Orlando Pulse Massacre for a lengthy period of time, or continues to ask questions every day, often, remember that grief and loss have no set time frame or expiration date. People need to wrestle with things for as long as they need to wrestle with things, and children are no exception for the rule. It’s all a process and it’s how we arrive at acceptance.

As parents, we might wish this subject would go away. But we don’t always get what we wish for. This is one of those times that parenting just really seems to suck eggs. Because we feel like we’re destroying our children’s’ innocence, like we’re robbing them of their childhood.

But actually, that would be Omar Mateen doing that to them.

In fact, when your children grow up, they’re going to remember how you helped them understand the Orlando Pulse Massacre, forthrightly, but with compassion. They are going to love you so much for getting it right. Because it’s times like this that build your legacy as a parent. Times like the Orlando Pulse Massacre.

What kinds of questions has your child asked regarding the Orlando Pulse Massacre. How have you answered your child’s questions? What have you done to soothe your child’s fears and concerns?

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.