Last night at the shelter I was having supper with a young "friend" of mine from group. He's bright, good-looking and still quite manipulative. He's also talking about guns and killing in group. When he does, his anger and fear don't show on his face. Only in his stories, actions (mild, impulsive aggression), and confusion.
The confusion comes from his wanting to do the right thing and from knowing that this type of talk is inappropriate. Usually children I work with at the shelter have not actually been exposed to guns or other weapons, though they may have lived in a dangerous neighborhood.
What they have been exposed to is mortal threats to themselves or their mother. Many have tremendous anger at their father or mom's partner for controlling them in this way. They often are also very angry at Mom for not protecting them or herself.
And some are sad because they miss Dad or a kind uncle or grandfather. Many mourn for the dad they wished they had.
These feelings come out in various ways. When they do, I talk about them with the child but don't admonish or punish him for them. Alternative behaviors and feelings are offered. Disagreeable as the negative, angry feelings are, they need to come out. Punishment only puts the child back in the home where feelings, especially outrage, were not allowed and often resulted in emotional or physical pain.
This living situation is very similar to a child growing up in an alcoholic home or one ruled by another addiction or mental illness. The elephant is in the living room but you aren't allowed to talk about it. Only to walk around as if it doesn't exist.
The shelter has no elephant. The women talk all the time about their lives. It's not all heavy, but it's supportive and real.
It's where they and their children need to be.