In the wake of the recent tragedy in Parkland, FL, children may feel the need to explore and express their feelings of concern and confusion. In partnership with the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and former NASP president and co-author of its PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention curriculum Melissa Reeves, NPR provides five tips for teachers and parents to use when having these tough conversations with children.
Pay attention to what children say and do: NASP encourages teachers and parents to look for indications that children want to talk, like lingering at the end of class or the school day or lingering while you’re doing the dishes. It’s also important to remember everyone expresses their feelings in different ways. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project to express their feelings and younger children may be more comfortable expressing their fears and anxiety via drawing or imaginative play.
Remind students they are safe: Reeves says the cardinal rule for talking to children about this type of tragedy is to remind them of the safety efforts their schools and the adults in their lives are already taking to keep them safe. Remind them that school doors are locked throughout the day, visitors must check in at the main office, and schools practice emergency drills. Reeves also suggests reminding students that school is the safest place for them to be, despite the mass amount of media coverage that may suggest otherwise.
Let their questions guide the conversation: This is especially important for younger children. “If students are saying, ‘We heard something really bad happened at a school yesterday,’ keep it general,” said Reeves, and ask them what they heard. If the student says he or she heard students got hurt at school, Reeves suggests something like “‘yes, some kids did get hurt, and here’s what the adults are doing at your school to make sure you stay safe.'” For older students who most likely know more details about an event, Reeves reiterates the importance of explaining the specific ways schools are ensuring their safety and not making promises that you as a teacher or parents cannot keep such as “I’m positive nothing bad will ever happen at your school.”
Reassure them of their control in the situation: An event like a school shooting may leave students feeling helpless. To combat this in younger students, NASP suggests highlighting examples of adult-led school safety precautions such as locking exterior doors, monitoring students on the playground, and practicing emergency drills. For older students, remind them of their responsibility to report strangers on campus and any potential threats made by classmates or members of the community. The PublicSchoolWORKS Student Safety Reporting System includes both telephone and online systems for reporting health, wellness and safety concerns, such as potential threats.
Encourage taking a break from social media: Social media is inundated with disturbing images and videos from tragic situations like the Parkland shooting. Being exposed to this can cause secondary trauma in students so Reeves suggests reminding students they have the choice to take a break from social media.