Parenting in a World of Guns
In the light of the Las Vegas shooting, our nation is collectively horrified and deeply saddened by the tragedy. As a parent, I personally can’t imagine the loss that families are experiencing right now. My thoughts instantly go to visualizing my child in a situation with guns. As I write, my oldest is 5.5 years old. She is starting to have friends at school whose families I do not know well. There is a possibility that she will be in a situation with a gun – I want her to know what to do so she is not another victim added to the tragic statistics.
As a scientist, I dove into the research. Luckily, I knew where to go. A USF professor, Dr. Ray Miltenberger, BCBA-D, has created a line of research teaching children about gun safety. He has identified three essential safety skills that even preschoolers can learn to increase safety around guns (Miltenberger, 2008).
Avoid. “When you see a gun, don’t touch it.” Children are curious and have a tendency to play with the guns they find (Hardy, 2002). If no one is touching a gun, it is very unlikely that anyone can get hurt.
Escape. “When you see a gun, go find someone who doesn’t have one. Or at least, get far away from it.” Practically speaking, the greater distance you are able to put between your child and a gun, the less likely of injury.
Report. “Tell an adult you saw a gun.” Even if your child escapes, the threat may still be present for others or still present for your child. If someone with some responsibility (e.g., adult, older sibling) is aware of the potentially harmful situation, she can do something about it.
However, Dr. Miltenberger’s research identifies that simply talking to your children about these safety strategies isn’t all that is needed. The NRA’s Eddie Eagle gun safety program teaches kids to verbally describe these three safety rules. However, those safety behaviors that were described were not evident during role-playing or in a safe, but realistic (real, unloaded gun available) situation (Himle, Miltenberger, Flessner, & Gatheridge, 2004). It was when children were taught via behavior skills training (BST) consisting of instruction, modeling, rehearsal, and praise/corrective feedback that they were able to employ the three safety skills. Further, these preschoolers who received BST were even able to generalize the safety skills to a simulated session in their own home with their parents present.
Therefore talking about what to do in the presence of a gun is essential, but not sufficient. To be truly effective, you need to model how to avoid, escape, and report to your child. Then, have your child rehearse how to avoid, escape, and report. Provide praise for correct responses and corrective feedback for what your child should do differently. Dr. Miltenberger goes into more detail in his 2008 article linked below. Create a mommy-group event like we did in our childhood with "stop, drop, and roll" and band together to teach safety skills. Let’s unite to make a safer and more educated community for our children.
Go here to read about Dr. Miltenberger's gun safety research with preschoolers:
Miltenberger, R. G. (2008). Teaching safety skills to children: Prevention of firearm injury as an exemplar of best practice in assessment, training, and generalization of safety skills. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 1(1), 30–36. http://doi.org/10.1007/BF03391718
Himle, M. B., Miltenberger, R. G., Flessner, C., & Gatheridge, B. (2004). Teaching safety skills to children to prevent gun play. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(1), 1-9.
Disclaimer: The nature of the The Learning Consultants blog is for informational purposes only to highlight evidence-based strategies that have been proven to be effective with a limited population in a limited environment. These strategies may not be applicable to all individuals in all settings. Individualism based upon biological, historical and environmental factors must be considered before implementation. Therefore, please consult with an educational, developmental, or behavioral professional before taking action. Untrained individuals using these strategies do so at their own risk.