Jeremy Olson writes about children and families, and is an overscheduled father of two. His blog tackles the best and worst of parenting, families, health and love. He wants to hear from you - what's going on in your house?

Discussing violence and tragedy with your children

Posted by: Jeremy Olson Updated: December 14, 2012 - 4:08 PM

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius offered the following guidance regarding the school shooting news and how to discuss it with children. The text below is her recommended letter from school principals to parents.

As you are aware, there was a shooting at a school in Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Because the incident happened in an elementary school, this may be of very great concern to all students and their families.
 
We wanted you to know what we have done at this school to address this event. But first we have some suggestion for you as you help your children and youth cope during this stressful time. 
 
Adult’s Role: Try to be calm, reassuring, and focused for the children. Parents and guardians need to get the support they need from other adults so they are able to effectively guide the children. Talk about family and community values, communication, and treating each other in a caring way. 
 
Talk and Listen: Find out what the children’s fears and concerns are and address them as directly and calmly as possible. Reassure them that you, extended family members, and other adults are here to help and protect. Give children time to talk, follow their lead – when they are ready to return to their regular routine, let them. If they have further concerns, they will probably come back to talk. Let them know they can talk at any time. 
 
Create a Safe Home Environment: Turn off the TV. Constant images, strong emotions, and reports of the shooting are not helpful at this time. If you need to watch the news, do so after the children have gone to bed. If teenage children want to watch the news, make sure that you are with them to help process the information and images. 
 
Keep to bedtime routine. A good antidote to stress is sleep. Children need reassurance at bedtime. Read to them, keep family faith traditions, and allow nightlights and hall lights to stay on. Some children may want extra assurance. Lying down with children, especially young ones, or sitting in a youth’s room until they fall asleep may be helpful. 
 
Use Your Resources: Community resources are available to you and your families to help you talk to children include counselors, members of the faith community, public health and sexual assault and domestic abuse programs. 
 
Start the DiscussionHere are some remarks that might help you start a discussion with your children about today’s events. Use whatever is comfortable for you. 
 
“What has happened today is horrifying, and our hearts and brains are having a hard time taking it all in. What we know at this point is: (give facts, as you know them.)”
 
“When scary things happen, it is important to take a big breath or whatever it is you do to help calm down. Pay attention to the facts. Be careful not to spread rumors.” 
 
Be careful to avoid dramatizing the drama – try to calm yourself and others instead of fanning the excitement.
 
“It is still important for you and me to be able to express our feelings and share our thoughts and concerns. Do you want to talk about what has happened? We can talk whenever you want.”
 
Possible Discussion Questions:
ü What have you heard about the shootings?
ü How are you feeling about what happened?
ü Is anyone you know worried about this happening at your school? How can we help that person?
ü How did what you heard or saw affect you?
ü Who are your friends, supporters and resources for help?
ü How can you be a friend or peacemaker to other students and adults in this family, neighborhood, or school?
 
At this school, we have taken the following steps: (fill in which details of your efforts regarding classroom discussions, security steps and attention to routine, review of the school wide crisis plan.)
 
We are concerned about the safety of all of the children in our community. We must be careful, as we talk to our children that the violent acts do not carry over to the way we treat each other. Adults must role model tolerance and care for all children. If you have any questions or concerns, please call us. 
 

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